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UK Provides $8.5M for Studies of Fruit Fly Development, Microalgae Oil Production

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has awarded £5.2 million ($8.5 million) to fund two new research projects, including an effort to better understand fruit fly genetics and development and a project to develop synthetic biology tools for algae-based oil production.

These two new grants are part of a cluster of six new studies pursuing a wide range of bioscience projects that BBSRC unveiled on Wednesday. Overall, BBSRC has awarded a total of £17.7 million to fund the projects.

University of Manchester Professor Simon Hubbard has received a £2.8 million award to use experimental and computational approaches to characterize and gain a deeper understanding of fruit fly development.

"This research will answer some important questions: we don't know how much of each gene product is expressed at each time point, we don't know which version of each gene is expressed, and we don't know the catalogue of interacting protein partners," Hubbard said in a statement. "Much of the knowledge needed to understand developmental signaling is missing. Crucially, and perhaps mostly importantly, we lack comprehensive data specifically at the protein level, where function is really determined."

Hubbard hopes that by filling in some of these unknown areas of fruit fly development it will become even more useful as a model organism and tool in genomics research and developmental biology.

Saul Purton, a researcher in molecular phycology at University College London, was awarded a £2.4 million grant to use synthetic biology methods to develop molecular tools for making microalgae useful for producing biofuels, bulk chemicals, and high value products.

The project will focus on two oil-producing marine microalgae, Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Nannochloropsis gaditana, both of which have had their genomes sequenced. Purton and his team aim to prove that they can develop tailored strains of microalgae that produce high levels of desired oils.

"These photosynthetic microorganisms offer many advantages in an industrial context; they do not compete with food crops for arable land, growth rates and productivity is very high, and they can be cultivated in fermenters where conditions can be controlled," Purton said.