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UK Agency Granting $7.9M to Develop Synthetic Bio Technology Platform

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council today announced a £5 million ($7.9 million) five-year grant to a consortium of universities to develop a Web-based synthetic biology platform.

The grant will go to five universities that together comprise the Flowers Consortium, which is carrying out research focused on synthetic biology in the UK. The five participants are Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University, and King's College London.

The technology to be developed with the grant will be based on a synthetic biology web-based information system called SynBIS that is currently in beta trials and is expected to be available by the end of June. SynBIS will host the software platform BioCAD and modeling tools, opening up "the possibility of undertaking high-level software design of bioparts and devices which can be assembled using laboratory robots and other automatic methods," EPSRC said in a statement.

EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.

A spokeswoman for the agency told GenomeWeb Daily News that researchers at the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College, which had received earlier funding from the agency, had been developing the information system and other parts of the platform technology "for some time," and colleagues in the consortium have performed other work, such as data mining.

"An important task is therefore to integrate all of this technology on a common web-based platform," she said in an e-mail.

The funding will also go toward the creation of a registry of biological parts and devices that use a robotic data collection pipeline for characterization. Such data will result in better mathematical modeling, leading to more predictable and reliable design and construction of the parts.

The Flowers Consortium also aims to use the funding to create a UK synthetic biology infrastructure that will be made available by a web server to be shared by universities throughout the UK and beyond. Such an infrastructure would allow for international collaboration such as one currently between EPSRC, Imperial College, and Stanford University, it said.

"Synthetic biology could provide solutions to many of humanity's most pressing issues and at the same time presents significant growth opportunities," the Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willets said in a statement. "This investment will lay the groundwork for the commercialization of research, ensuring academics and industry can realize the full potential of this exciting area of science."