It will spearhead the UK’s role in the four-year SYNENERGENE project, which spans more than 20 countries and 28 organisations as the EU aims to involve a wide range of stakeholders to ensure responsible research and innovation in synthetic biology.
This new science can broadly be described as the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems. It’s a multidisciplinary science where biologists and engineers work together to design and build biological systems from scratch.
It offers huge potential for applications in energy, health and the environment. Yet, it also brings with it various challenges such as regulatory issues around biosafety, biosecurity and intellectual property rights, as well as potential environmental and socio-economic risks.
The field of synthetic biology has been declared a top research priority by the UK government but public awareness remains low across the world – a challenge which partners in the SYNENERGENE project will focus on.
It’s been funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), the EU’s main instrument for funding research in Europe.
The University of Bristol has been awarded €172,000 of the total grant, which will fund experiential training for early career scientists in synthetic biology, public engagement and dialogue activities - including some touring science theatre events for schools to open up ethical, legal and social debates around synthetic biology - plus online engagement activities and science cafes.
The Bristol team will be led by the Centre for Public Engagement, alongside Professor Ruud ter Meulen, from the School of Social and Community Medicine, and Professor Kathy Sykes, from the Institute for Advanced Studies.
Dr Maggie Leggett, Head of the Centre for Public Engagement, said: "Considering the strength we have across the University in synthetic biology, both in the science and in the ethical, legal and social aspects, I am delighted we are partners on this FP7 grant to do more work in public engagement and responsible research and innovation in the area.
“The grant will both allow us to try out some new techniques in public engagement, and open up valuable new opportunities for international collaboration and sharing of best practice.”