Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Synthetic biology

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) supports world-leading multidisciplinary synthetic biology research in the UK. Synthetic biology could help to solve major global challenges in fields including health and wellbeing, energy, food security and the environment.

BBSRC’s standard research grant provides up to £2 million for projects in this priority area
The standard research grant is an ongoing scheme. Projects can last up to five years
Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

We are keen to encourage proposals in the emerging area of synthetic biology. It can be described as the design and construction of novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, as well as redesigning existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.

It incorporates the principles of engineering (for example modularity, abstraction and orthogonality) into classical biotechnology, and has a number of potential applications within the bio-based knowledge economy. These include but are not limited to: industrial biotechnology, bioenergy, bioprocessing, novel materials and biosensors.

Research areas

Within this context, we are keen to encourage proposals in six areas.

Proposals may be focused on a specific scientific question, sector, or industrial outcome. They can also be aimed at underpinning technologies and research.

Orthogonal biosystems

We encourage proposals in engineering cells and organisms to include systems or parts not found in nature to impart new capacities or chemistry.

Regulatory circuits

Proposals in designing and inserting well-characterised circuits or networks, to generate new functions or responses in cells and organisms are encouraged.


We also encourage proposals in bottom-up chemical design approaches to produce synthetic or semi-synthetic cells and compartments.

Metabolic engineering

Proposals involving using complex modifications informed by predictive models of biosynthetic pathways to allow or enhance production of useful products are also encouraged.

Minimal genomes

We encourage proposals involving the understanding of the minimal number of parts (genes) needed for life, to serve as a chassis for engineering minimal cell factories for new functions.


Proposals for projects that utilise and exploit synthetic molecular nano machines based on cellular systems are also encouraged.


Projects should focus on underpinning and enabling one of our strategic research priorities or have potential generic utility across one or more broad areas of the biosciences.

Our strategic research priorities are:

  • food security
  • industrial biotechnology
  • bioscience underpinning health.

It is expected that proposals will require strong multidisciplinary partnerships between bioscientists and researchers in engineering, the physical sciences and information technology disciplines.

Data sharing

Proposals should comply with our data sharing policy. Proposals developing informatics tools should make such tools available to the wider user and developer community with as few restrictions as possible. They should, ideally use open source best practices, for example Creative Commons or Open Source Initiative recommended licences.

However, we recognise that, at times, the creators’ intellectual property rights may need to be protected before any sharing takes place. This is encouraged where appropriate beforehand. Such protection should not unduly delay the release of any data or tools arising from BBSRC funding.


It is expected that proposals will provide tools and resources of potential application to broad communities in the biosciences.

Ethical and other issues

We recognise that synthetic biology raises potential social, ethical, legal and philosophical issues and that these should be considered concomitantly with the scientific agenda and as research progresses.

Read the report about BBSRC’s collaboration with Forum for the Future and Friends of the Earth on enabling broad conversation on synthetic biology.

Why we're doing it

The aim of this priority is to support world-leading multidisciplinary synthetic biology research in the UK.

The synthetic biology priority falls within Transformative Technologies, one of three enabling themes in our current Strategic Plan. World-class bioscience is critically dependent on new technologies, methodologies and resources.

Transformative Technologies develops the tools, technologies and approaches that enable researchers to push the boundaries of bioscience discovery and stimulate innovation.

Synthetic biology is developing rapidly and is applicable to a wide range of biological problems. It could help to solve a number of major global challenges in fields including health and wellbeing, energy, food security and the environment.

Opportunities, support and resources available

This is one of BBSRC’s priority areas for our standard research grant. You can apply at any time.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within BBSRC’s remit.

Find out more about applying for funding, what to include in your application.

Who to contact

Jamie Parkin

Telephone: 01793 413202

Last updated: 18 October 2022

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