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NSF Funds Berkeley, Stanford Bio-fabrication Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at the University of California Berkeley and Stanford University have won a grant from the National Science Foundation to start a new bio-fabrication facility that will develop thousands of standardized DNA parts for use in synthetic biology, academic, and biotech labs.

This $1.4 million Engineering Education and Centers Innovation grant from the NSF will support the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (Biofab) project, which is receiving matching funds from its partners, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the BioBricks Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes the use of synthetic biology.

The project will develop ways to scale up a biological parts production facility and to ensure that technologies — such as rapid genome scale reengineering and composition standards for devices — developed by Berkeley’s Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), which is also funded by NSF, are accessible and translatable for uses.

“Synthetic biology has the potential to make the engineering of biology much easier and more affordable,” Biofab Director Drew Endy, a professor in Stanford’s Bioengineering Department and president of BioBricks, said in a statement.

"This is an opportunity to build a framework that will allow us to set open standards for how we do biological design in the future, so that biological parts work reliably in everyone’s hands,” added Biofab Co-director Adam Arkin, a UC Berkeley professor and head of Synthetic Biology for LBNL’s Physical Biosciences Division.

Jay Keasling, a UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering and acting deputy director at LBNL, said that the facility “will provide an essential resource that will allow many academic researchers to rapidly prototype, test, and translate their foundational discoveries and ideas into practice. By enabling everyone to better work together, the Biofab will make the engineering of biology easier and more predictable."

The Biofab facility will pursue three specific projects: It will rapidly prototype SynBERC-specified genetic systems to achieve testbed-driven objectives; it will design, construct, and test a collection of 6,000 new BioBrick parts for controlling replication, transcription, RNA processing, and other factors in E. coli and S. cerevisiae; and it will work with industrial and academic partners to develop tools for supporting the design, construction, and characterization of engineered genetic systems from standard biological parts.

The Biofab also will promulgate standards for synthetic biology through the BioBrick Public Agreement, a legal framework for supporting open technology platforms in genetic engineering.

The facility also plans to integrate ethics research within its production, planning, and operations.

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