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UK Awards £40M to Bolster Synthetic Biology Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK government today announced £40 million ($60.2 million) in funding to bolster the country's synthetic biology research. 

Three new Synthetic Biology Research Centres will be created with £30 million, while work to develop synthetic DNA fragments needed for creating useful biological components will receive £8 million, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council said. BBSRC, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, and the UK government are providing the funding through capital investments.  

The new centers will be located at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Manchester, and the University of Warwick. Each will be funded for five years. At the Edinburgh Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology, Susan Rosser will use an £11.4 million award to build in-house synthetic biology expertise in mammalian systems for applications in the pharmaceutical and drug testing industries, as well as for use in biosensing cell lines for diagnostics, novel therapeutics, and the production of protein-based drugs, BBSRC said. 

Meanwhile, Nigel Scrutton, a professor at the University of Manchester's Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Specialty Chemicals will receive a £10.2 million award to design and engineer biological parts, devices, and systems for sustainable fine and specialty chemical production. 

Also, John McCarthy at the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre will use a £10.5 million award to develop next-generation synthetic biology tools; biosynthetic pathways "that generate valuable bioactivities;" synthetic communities of microbes that may benefit the environment, and skin and gut health; and plants with enhanced resistance to stress and pathogens. 

The £8 million funding for building DNA starting blocks will be shared by four research teams. Rosser is receiving £2.4 million to lead a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Liverpool to design and synthesize multiple varied DNA circuits. They will interrogate the circuits within host cells using various assays.

Also, Richard Kitney, a professor at Imperial College London, is getting £1.3 million to create a platform that can support synthetic biology software tools for integrating hardware, management, and data analysis in order to build a DNA synthesis workflow. 

Another team of researchers from Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge will develop hardwire and software infrastructures for UK DNA Foundries. Patrick Yizhi Cai at Edinburgh his leading the effort, which received £2 million. 

Lastly, the University of Oxford's Tom Brown will lead a team from Oxford, and the universities of Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton, and Birmingham to analyze and optimize methods of ultra-high throughput of DNA manufacturing. As part of their £2.2 million award, they also will explore new methods of making large pieces of DNA.