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European Consortium Offers Strategic Vision for Synthetic Biology

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – If Europe is to become a global leader in the synthetic biology realm it will need to make significant investments in research and scientific networks focused this new field that share tools, information, and talent, a European Commission-funded consortium said in a report this week.

The report from the Synthetic Biology ERA-NET (ERASynBio) project, a European Research Area network consortium of 16 agencies tasked with creating a pan-European foundation for supporting synthetic biology, lays out five broad recommendations in its "Next Steps for European Synthetic Biology" report.

ERASynBio's broad vision is that synthetic biology in the near future will be a significant driver of economic growth and will offer tools to address society's grand challenges in medicine, manufacturing, fuel production, and the environment. To make that vision a reality Europe will need to have networked, multidisciplinary centers of excellence, a skilled workforce, cutting edge and open technologies, and responsible policies governing how these new tools are used.

These new recommendations offer "a series of specific, measurable, attainable, and timely" actions for realizing this vision, ERASynBio said in the report.

"This European strategic vision for synthetic biology galvanizes knowledge and resources across national boundaries, which is essential if the field is to realize its full potential," Melanie Welham, science director for the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said in a statement.

In broad terms, the report urged Europe to provide "significant funding" to create transnational networks of synthetic biology research groups, and that it use open, peer-reviewed competitions to award these funds to ensure that the research stays at the cutting edge of this field.

It is important that synthetic biology be cultivated and implemented in a responsible and inclusive manner, because technological successes will not be very useful if the public does not use, or will not accept them, the report advised.

ERASynBio also suggested steps be taken to build up a transnational research and policy-making community, because synthetic biology, "perhaps more than any other related field, requires the interactions of researchers and policy makers from multiple locations and scientific backgrounds."

It said that training programs will be needed to cultivate the kind of skilled and interconnected workforce that will be needed for synthetic biology enterprises, and new educational approaches will be necessary to train the next generation of synthetic biologists.

The consortium also advised that for institutions to engage in synthetic biology research they will need access to novel data sets and the latest technologies. It has called upon funding organizations and other stakeholders to take steps to encourage the effective use of data and other new tools and to help the research community develop the "next generation of synthetic biology infrastructure."