Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Synthetic biology

The application of engineering tools and principles to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world, as well as the redesign of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This area encompasses the application of engineering tools and principles to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world, as well as the redesign of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.

This research area has developed substantially through targeted investments seeking to increase the UK’s competitive advantage. It remains of strategic importance, with EPSRC playing a vital role in ensuring that synthetic biology’s potential can be realised. We will look to capitalise on existing investments and infrastructure with a view to exploiting the manufacturing and scale up potential.

A continued focus will be to ensure that engineers in particular, along with mathematicians and physical scientists, are fully engaged and play a leadership role in developing the future of synthetic biology. Research in this area is central to addressing current and future national challenges related to sustainability and resource efficiency.

Standards, metrology and responsible research innovation are three areas of significant importance to growing the potential of synthetic biology, due to their importance in transforming research into viable industrial technologies. The community should have embedded them into research practices as standard.

As this research area develops, the technology becomes more mature and moves closer to application, process engineering aspects (for example scale up) will become increasingly important. We will work with the community to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration with the process and manufacturing communities, and will encourage the community to tackle these challenges, to exploit any potential opportunities that arise.

We will also work with the community and other important partners to identify suitable challenges and areas of strategic importance within the portfolio as they arise.

Why we're doing it

The UK is judged second only to the US when it comes to synthetic biology. However, in terms of policy we are seen to be a world leader.

This portfolio has grown significantly, attributable to targeted investment in research, infrastructure and people by EPSRC and other funders. This investment, in conjunction with partners, has developed a strong infrastructure base underpinning the community for example, the Synthetic Biology for Growth initiative.


Access to state-of-the-art equipment and expertise has been enabled through establishment of:

  • six multidisciplinary synthetic biology research centres
  • seven UK DNA synthesis centres
  • a Synthetic Biology Innovation and Knowledge Centre.

Critical investments are in place to safeguard the future skills pipeline necessary to capitalise on this nascent technology area, in the form of centres for doctoral training in synthetic biology and bioprocess leadership.

Importance to the UK

The recently published, government-endorsed strategic plan indicates that the area remains of strategic importance to the UK and contains a strong focus on future application of any technology developed. This research area has potential to address a diverse range of important socio-economic challenges including healthcare, agriculture, novel materials, biofuels,energy, bioremediation,clean water and manufacturing. The UK bioeconomy is currently estimated to be worth around £220 billion gross value added, with the aim to increase by a further £220 billion over the coming decade.

Investment in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has been a real success. To ensure that the community thrives and quality is maintained, working across research councils is continuing.

Clear links exist across the EPSRC portfolio. Key interactions include chemical biology and biological chemistry, and biological informatics. Links to manufacturing the future and process systems: components and integration will be increasingly important as the research area progresses towards implementation of techniques and scale up.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for synthetic biology.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Last updated: 6 January 2023

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.