Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Synthetic Biology for Growth

The Synthetic Biology for Growth programme was established by the UK research councils following recommendations on synthetic biology research and investment from UK government. It consisted of four streams of investment:

  • Multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs)
  • DNA synthesis
  • Better training for students
  • Synthetic Biology Seed Fund
£102 million
Original programme phase from 2014 to 2020, extended investments to 2022
Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC, lead), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

In total, the Synthetic Biology for Growth programme (SBfG) represented investments of £102 million, including:

  • £50 million Autumn Statement capital
  • £1.37 million capital from BBSRC
  • £50.5 million resource funding provided for six Synthetic Biology Research Centres by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC)

The SBfG programme consisted of four streams of investment:

  • multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs)
  • DNA synthesis
  • Better training for students
  • Synthetic Biology Seed Fund

Why we're doing it

There were a number of important developments of direct relevance to synthetic biology research in the UK, including:

  • the publication of ‘a synthetic biology roadmap for the UK’ which contained key recommendations to support and develop the UK research and industrial communities
  • the establishment of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (bringing together stakeholders from government, funding agencies, academia and industry)
  • an announcement of a government capital investment of £50 million in synthetic biology in the 2012 Autumn Statement

To implement the roadmap recommendations, deliver on the investment from government and taking heed of the advice from the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council, the UK research councils came together to produce the business case for the Synthetic Biology for Growth Programme.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs)

Six SBRCs, representing a total investment of £70.5 million, were allocated funding over five years to boost national synthetic biology research capacity and ensure that there is diverse expertise to stimulate innovation in this area.


Aim: to develop new techniques, technologies and reagents that will allow biologically-based products to be made easily, quickly and cheaply, and in sufficient quantities to make them useful.

SBRC Nottingham

Aim: to provide sustainable routes to important chemicals that modern society needs. They aim to use synthetic biology to engineer bacteria to convert gases that are all around us, such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), into more desirable and useful molecules, reducing our reliance on petrochemicals.

OpenPlant initiative

Aim: to establish internationally-linked DNA registries for sharing information about plant specific parts and simple testbeds. The development and exchange of new foundational tools and parts will directly contribute to the engineering of new traits in plants.

Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology

Aim: to build in-house expertise in synthetic biology in mammalian systems for use in areas such as:

  • the pharmaceutical and drug testing industries
  • biosensing cell lines for diagnostics
  • novel therapeutics
  • production of protein-based drugs, for example antibodies
  • programming stem cell development for regenerative medicine applications


Aim: to bring scientists together to design and engineer biological parts, devices and systems for sustainable fine and speciality chemicals production. This includes new products and intermediates for drug development, agricultural chemicals and new materials for sustainable manufacturing.

Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB)

Aim: to utilise state-of-the-art principles of biosystems design and engineering. This is in order to develop:

  • next-generation synthetic biology tools
  • biosynthetic pathways that generate valuable bioactives
  • synthetic communities of microbes that could help improve the environment as well as skin and gut health
  • plants with enhanced resistance to stress and pathogens

DNA synthesis

Two phases of strategic capital investments in DNA synthesis totalling £18 million were made to:

  • bring academic expertise to bear on bottlenecks in DNA synthesis
  • build bridges between academia and synthetic biology companies
  • help to nurture the UK’s growing synthetic biology industry
  • boost UK’s capability in the area to help create jobs and drive economic growth

First phase of investment

The Edinburgh Genome Foundry

Aim: to provide end-to-end design, construction and validation of large gene constructs (up to 1 million base pairs) for academia and industry, based on the automation of technologies.

The DNA synthesis and construction foundry for synthetic biology

Aim: to develop an experimental platform to enable a standardised framework for DNA synthesis, gene and genome assembly and assembly verification.

The Liverpool GeneMill

Aim: to develop a high throughput, automated workflow for synthesising genes and DNA parts in bacteria, fungus, plant and mammalian cells.

Synthetic Biology Facility

Aim: to up to £2 million to invest in a robotic platform to automate assembly of short DNA fragments into expressible genes. This includes the picking, growth and analysis of DNA from bacterial colonies.

DNA synthesis facility at the Norwich Research Park

Aim: to support the design, generation and exploitation of high-value compounds and bioactives obtained from plants and microbes.

Second phase of investment

Software Systems for Imperial College DNA Foundry

Aim: to establish a platform to support a suite of synthetic biology software tools, allowing the seamless integration of hardware, management and analysis of generated data. This is for the purpose of building a professional DNA synthesis workflow.

Assay Development Platforms

Aim: to enable the rapid design and synthesis of multiple varied DNA circuits (for example, metabolic pathways, biosensors, counting or memory devices) and interrogate the utility of these circuits within host cell chassis via an array of assays.

Building national hardware and software infrastructure for UK DNA Foundries

Aim: to enhance the national capacity of synthetic DNA design and manufacture, and to ensure the UK is internationally competitive and increase both national and international collaboration. It brings together three strong software teams across the UK to develop national hardwired and software infrastructure for UK DNA Foundries.

Next Generation DNA Synthesis

Aim: to analyse DNA made by modern ultra-high throughput chemical methods and optimise the process, and explore new ways to make large pieces of DNA.

Better training for students

Centres for Doctoral Training

Two capital investments of £1 million each were made to the two BBSRC and EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) in synthetic biology at Oxford, Bristol and Warwick universities, and University College London (UCL). The funding provided equipment to enhance student training at the CDTs, which are world-leading training environments for students of synthetic biology.

BBSRC and EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Synthetic Biology

Up to £1 million capital funding to enhance this CDT, including a dedicated synthetic biology laboratory in Oxford accessible to all students throughout their PhD and specialist facilities in Warwick and Bristol.

Sustaining world-class training and research innovation in synthetic biology-based biomanufacture

Up to £1 million in capital funding for the EPSRC CDT in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership at UCL for the acquisition of state-of-the-art bioprocess and analytical equipment and establishment of dedicated training laboratories.

Synthetic Biology Seed Fund

£10 million capital funding was made available for investment through the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund mechanism (previously the Rainbow Seed Fund, managed by Midven), to support synthetic biology start-up companies and ‘pre-companies’.

Governance, management and panels

To develop the strategy for the implementation and delivery of the capital monies through the SBfG programme, the RCUK Synthetic Biology Working Group was established, under the direction of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). This group met regularly and comprised representatives from:

• the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
• the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
• the Medical Research Council (MRC)
• the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
• observers from Innovate UK and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)

Last updated: 1 December 2023

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