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UK, Europe Fund Synthetic Biology Projects

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The United Kingdom and Europe have provided £1.5 million ($2.2 million) in funding for several new collaborative research projects focused on synthetic biology, according to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

These projects include three UK research efforts involving synthetic biology applications in therapeutics, cell division, and microfluidics, and a Europe-funded, Norway-based bacterial engineering project.

The UK-based multi-investigator projects were funded by both BBSRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the EuroSYNBIO Programme, which is part of the European Science Foundation's European Collaborative Research Scheme (EUROCORES).

The Norwegian project was supported both by EuroSYNBIO and by five European funding agencies.

"Through sharing the UK's cutting edge bioscience knowledge and expertise with European partners, we can develop innovations which benefit the health and well-being of millions of people at home and abroad," the UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said in a statement.

"These four projects open up some exciting possibilities for using a synthetic biology approach to answer important questions in biological sciences and applications," BBSRC Director of Research Janet Allen said. "Synthetic biology requires specialized approaches so it is extremely valuable for researchers funded by the UK Research Councils to have the chance to collaborate outside of the UK in this field."

One of the projects, led by MRC Centre Cambridge, received £300,000 to develop an artificial genetic system for application in developing novel nucleic acid therapeutics. This work, conducted along with Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Bonn, seeks to develop an artificial system based on nucleic acids that have unnatural characteristics and which could be used to make aptamers that are more stable, bio-available, and active.

A study focused on synthetic biology of bacterial cell division is being led by the University of Oxford and received £390,000.

The project includes partners at the University of Technology Dresden and Delft University of Technology, and aims to understand how proteins can control cell division inside of a living cell, and to compare bacteria that are freely moving to bacteria that are squeezed into a nanostructure.

A University College London-led project will use £403,000 to characterize cellular assemblies in microfluidic systems. This effort will include partners at the University of Groningen, the University of Regensburg, and ETH Zurich. The goal is to develop protocols and technologies that allow quick characterization of biological parts and cells and to understand their character and behavior.

The Norway-led project will involve ETH Zurich, Wesfalian Willhelms University, and the University of Toulouse. It will integrate genomic and experimental knowledge of micro-organisms and use computational methods to identify which elements of their metabolism represent the minimum requirements for processing one-carbon compounds. These elements could potentially be used together to produce bulk chemicals from methanol using bacteria.

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