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Carver Trust Awards $2M to Further Synthetic Biology Technology Development at U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust today announced it has awarded $2 million to the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to support research into synthetic biology.

The two-year grant will go toward instrumentation and core facilities. Huimin Zhao, a professor in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at UIUC, is the principal investigator on the grant, and Christopher Rao, an assistant professor in the same department at the university, is the co-principal investigator.

"We're doing something different, I think, from other synthetic biology centers in the world by focusing on higher eukaryotes," Zhao said in a statement. "We will develop foundational synthetic biology technologies and computational platforms for the genetic modification of plants and animals to address grand challenges in human health and environmental sustainability."

The Carver grant will be directed at developing new technologies for the efficient and cost-effective construction of large DNA molecules, such as pathways and vectors. Technologies will also be developed to alter the expression of multiple genes simultaneously within the cells of plans and animals.

"Most synthetic biology centers work with bacterial cells, like E. coli," said Zhao. "We will be one of the first to develop new synthetic biology tools for plant and mammalian cells. This has the possibility to create huge scientific advances, like plants with better photosynthetic capacities, or gene therapy for diseases like sickle cell anemia and inherited cancers."

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