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National Academies' Grants to Spur Synthetic Biology

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Academies' Keck Futures Initiative (NAFKI) has awarded a number of new grants to fund multidisciplinary research efforts aimed at promoting new uses for and advances in synthetic biology.

The $1.2 million in funding for a total of 13 studies will support a range of synthetic biology approaches, including genomics and metagenomics research, and they will enable scientists to recruit students and post-doctoral fellows, buy new equipment, and acquire preliminary data, the National Academies said today.

"We received a record number of proposals, including many bold and innovative projects, and believe that these collaborations will result in the most generative findings," Princeton University Professor of Molecular biology and Chair of the NAFKI Seventh Annual Futures Conference Bonnie Bassler said in a statement.

Huimin Zhao and Zengyi Shao of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will use a $100,000 grant for a research program focused on genome mining of natural products using synthetic biology. This research effort will involve developing a new synthetic biology strategy to discovery novel natural products from sequenced genomes and metagenomes. These studies could lead to the discovery and development of new drugs for treating infectious diseases and cancers.

Guantam Dantas and Bin Wang of Washington University, St. Louis, and Rob Knight of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute received a $75,000 grant to use metagenomics to study enzymatic functions from low-volume samples and whole-genome amplification. The research efforts will use experimental methods to capture diverse biological machinery from a range of environments using "extremely small amounts of genetic material and useful computational methods." The goal is to improve the ability to define fitness landscapes and harness the potential of chemical processing of biological systems.

Emory University Researchers Deboleena Roy and Ichiro Matsumura, along with other collaborators, will use a $75,000 grant to develop a research and education training program that will train graduate students in bioengineering and bioethics and will develop participatory research practices in synthetic biology to address the need for engaging with non-traditional stakeholders.

John Cumbers of Brown University and Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center and Brown University, won a $25,000 grant to conduct an interdisciplinary workshop that will bring together synthetic biology leaders with space scientists and engineers to discuss the role that synthetic biology could play in achieving missions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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