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UC Berkeley Starts Synthetic Biology Institute

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of California, Berkeley, has launched a new institute focused on synthetic biology and bioengineering, and it has signed up Agilent Technologies as its first industry partner, the university said yesterday.

The Synthetic Biology Institute (SBI) will link up other UC Berkeley centers involved in synbio and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and it will seek to apply these new technologies in medicine, energy, the environment, and other research areas.

Agilent is helping to launch the center with a "multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment" and providing access to its technologies and scientists, the university said.

The interdisciplinary center will include 33 faculty members and scientists from eight departments at the school and four LBNL divisions, including engineering, chemical sciences, and biology.

SBI's core goals will be to increase understanding of biological systems, to develop transferable bioengineering tools, and to develop design rules for building biological components and systems for an array of applications. The center also will address potential ethical and social impacts of the synbio field.

"Synthetic biology potentially can have as profound an impact in the 21st Century as semiconductor technology had in the 20th," William Sullivan, Agilent's CEO and president, said in a statement.

"To get there, we need to engineer biological solutions that are scalable, reliable, and safe. This is precisely what the UC Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute is addressing, and why Agilent is enthusiastic about providing infrastructure, expertise, and funding for this new institute," Sullivan continued.

The institute will seek to "create an industrial revolution in biological engineering," added Matthew Tirrell, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Bioengineering and SBI's founding director. "SBI seeks to bridge the gap between the small-scale, biological engineering of the present and industrial-level production by developing design tools and other infrastructure to produce synthetic biological systems reliably on a large scale."

Other SBI leaders include Director Adam Arkin, who also is director of the Physical Biosciences Division at LBNL, and Associate Director Douglas Clark, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and executive associate dean of the College of Chemistry.

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