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New Partnerships to Forge Synthetic Biology Links between UK and China

Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
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Scientific links in the field of synthetic biology will be boosted by the announcement of five grants awarded through a Synthetic Biology China Partnering Award.

The awards, co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will provide funding to BBSRC and EPSRC supported researchers to partner and develop long term fruitful relationships with Chinese scientists.

A total of £124,000 will be provided by BBSRC and EPSRC to UK scientists, with CAS providing matched funding to Chinese researchers, for activities such as exchange of early career researchers, workshops, reciprocal access to facilities, networking and travel. The funding is provided for up to four years and it is anticipated that the partnerships will lead to new joint grant applications and high impact research.

This is the first time BBSRC and EPSRC have run a joint funding call with CAS and it is hoped that this will form a strong foundation for further joint working with China in the future.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field where engineering principles are applied in biology to design, engineer and build new biological systems.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: "Synthetic biology is an exciting new field with enormous potential to bring benefits to people around the world in all sorts of ways, for example producing better antibiotics or manufacturing low carbon fuels.

"Co-funded initiatives such as this scheme will see British and Chinese scientists learning from each other's expertise and benefiting from the globalisation of excellent science."

Cao Jinghua, Deputy Director-General of Bureau of International Cooperation of CAS, said: "We at CAS attach great importance to international collaboration.

"The idea of this program is to put the best minds together. Together our scientists and these from the UK can advance this field more efficiently. In the progress of their cooperation, I hope they will further strengthen their linkages and collaboration, and tackle bigger challenges for the needs of mankind."

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, said: "EPSRC is pleased to be part of this joint international call which demonstrates the wide scope for synthetic biology to create impact in many academic fields. It has the potential to create new solutions to address pressing global challenges, such as the need for new fuels, better waste management and new medicines."

The funding has been awarded to:
•    Professor Nigel Minton, University of Nottingham
Prof Minton, of the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC), will collaborate with Professor Weihong Jiang of the Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology at the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences. Industrial partners Lanzatech and BaoSteel are contributing a total of £6,000 to aid work on the design of strategies and tools for producing bacteria able to make low carbon fuels and chemicals from industrial waste gas without consuming food or land resources.

•    Professor John Ward, University College London
Prof Ward will collaborate with Professor Zhihua Zhou at the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences using synthetic biology and metagenomics approaches to obtain new enzymes and build pathways for the breakdown of biomass.

•    Professor Nigel Scrutton, University of Manchester
Prof Scrutton will collaborate with Professor Lixin Zhang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Microbiology to establish cooperative research on the use of synthetic biology approaches for production of high-value fine chemicals.

•    Dr Louise Horsfall, University of Edinburgh
Dr Horsfall will collaborate with Professor Pingsheng Liu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Biophysics to research the potential of lipid droplets as tools for synthetic biology and test the enzymes of a bacterium called Rhodococcus opacus for their ability to degrade plant materials. The partners will also examine the ethical, legal and social implications of synthetic biology in an applied context and within international partnerships

•    Professor Gregory Challis, University of Warwick
Prof Challis will collaborate with Professor Shuang-Yan Tang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Microbiology, Beijing on the development of synthetic biology approaches for the identification and structural diversification of novel antibiotics.


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