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£12M for Synthetic Biology Facilities and Training

Published: Monday, April 07, 2014
Last Updated: Monday, April 07, 2014
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The UK Research Councils, led by the BBSRC, will award £10M to establish five centres for DNA synthesis across the UK to further develop the UK's research base in synthetic biology.

The new academic centres will build bridges between academic and embryonic synthetic biology companies, helping to nurture the UK's growing synthetic biology industry and boosting the UK's capability in the area to help create jobs and drive economic growth.

In addition, £2M will provide equipment to enhance student training at BBSRC and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), which providing world-leading training environments for students of synthetic biology.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "Synthetic biology is one of the eight great technologies of the future with the potential to underpin growth and create jobs in a low carbon economy. This investment in SynBio will hopefully stimulate even more interest and financial support and reinforce our efforts to develop a leading SynBio community in the UK."

Synthetic biology involves the design and construction of novel biologically-based parts, devices and systems, as well as redesigning existing biological systems for useful purposes. It has been identified by the UK Government as one of the "Eight Great Technologies" in which Great Britain is or can be a world leader.

One of the biggest hurdles in synthetic biology is the creation and assembly of starting materials: modular bits of DNA that code for a particular function and are synthesised in the lab. Creating this DNA is time-consuming and expensive. The DNA synthesis centres, in Edinburgh, London, Liverpool, Norwich and Cambridge, will build on existing investments to further establish capability of DNA synthesis for synthetic biology in the UK to help tackle this problem

The CDTs, based at University College London and a consortium between the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Warwick will offer doctoral students the chance to learn in specialist synthetic biology facilities, improving the breadth and depth of their skills.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Executive Director of Science, said: "These new investments will help the UK develop as a leader in synthetic biology and make advances in a wide range of fields, such as agriculture, renewable materials, biofuels and medicines, while at the same time reducing our reliance on finite resources, such as petrochemicals. Nature's toolbox already produces many useful industrial chemicals and medicines and synthetic biology offers the opportunity to redesign these tools for useful purposes."

Kedar Pandya, EPSRC Engineering Lead said: "This cross council investment in synthetic biology will keep the UK at the forefront of developments in the vastly promising area. By providing capital funds to Centres for Doctoral Training we are giving students the tools they need to get the best possible training."

The capital funds for both the DNA synthesis centres and the CDTs are part of £50M allocated to realise the Roadmap for Synthetic Biology in the UK in the 2012 Autumn Statement from Chancellor George Osborne.

The Centres for DNA Synthesis:

• Edinburgh Genome Foundry, the University of Edinburgh
Up to £1.8M to establish the Edinburgh Genome Foundry, which will provide end-to-end design, construction and validation of large gene constructs (up to 1Mbp) for academia and industry, based on the automation of technologies.

• A DNA synthesis and construction foundry for synthetic biology, Imperial College London Up to £2M to establish the DNA Synthesis and Construction Foundry which will develop an experimental platform to enable a standardised framework for DNA synthesis, gene and genome assembly and assembly verification.

• Liverpool GeneMill, a high-throughput DNA synthesis facility, University of Liverpool 
Up to £2M to form the Liverpool GeneMill, which will develop a high throughput, automated workflow for synthesising genes and DNA parts in bacteria, fungus, plant and mammalian cells.

• Synthetic biology facility at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology 
Up to £2M to invest in a robotic platform to automate assembly of short DNA fragments into expressible genes, including the picking, growth and analysis of DNA from bacterial colonies.

• DNA Synthesis at the Norwich Research Park 
Up to £1.9M for The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) to set up a DNA synthesis facility at the Norwich Research Park with the aim to support the design, generation and exploitation of high-value compounds and bioactives obtained from plants and microbes.

The Centres for Doctoral Training:

• The BBSRC and EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Synthetic Biology at the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Warwick
Up to £1M 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. This will increase the breadth and depth of Synthetic Biology training by exposing students to a wide range of cutting-edge capabilities.

• Sustaining world-class training and research innovation in synthetic biology-based biomanufacture at University College London (UCL)
Up to £1M 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. This will stimulate development of new training activities which will be fully integrated within the IDC training programme.

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