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UK Invests $66M in Three New Synthetic Biology Centers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government is providing £40 million ($65.8 million) to fund three new synthetic biology research centers that will serve as key components of a national strategy to ramp up research and industry capabilities in this field.

The funding will support a network of collaborative, multidisciplinary research centers; one in Bristol, another in Nottingham, and a third that is a partnership between researchers in Cambridge and Norwich.

The five-year investment was provided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, BBSRC said on Thursday.

These centers will pursue their own research programs, develop new technologies, and support the synthetic biology culture in the UK by providing resources such as equipment, researchers, and technical staff.

"Synthetic biology has the potential to drive economic growth but still remains relatively untapped and these new centers will ensure that the UK is at the forefront when it comes to commercializing these new technologies," Minster for Universities and Science David Willetts said in a statement.

The Bristol Centre for Synthetic Biology at the University of Bristol will receive £14 million to support development of new techniques, technologies, and reagents that will make building biologically based produces easier, faster, and cheaper, BBSRC said. These products may include vaccines, antibiotics, red blood cell-based drug delivery systems, and environmental remediation tools.

The Synthetic Biology Research Centre Nottingham at the University of Nottingham will receive £14.3 million. This center will focus on engineering microorganisms for use in manufacturing alternative fuels.

The OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and the John Innes Centre was awarded £12 million to develop open technologies for use in plant synthetic biology. The initiative will establish internationally linked DNA registries for sharing information about plant parts that will be useful in engineering new traits in plants.

Launching the network of collaborative centers is a core part of the UK's Synthetic Biology Roadmap program, which launched in 2012 after the government identified this area as a field with excellent potential for spurring new industries and innovations in healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Under the roadmap plan, the UK recently invested £10 million in a fund to support startup businesses seeking to commercialize synthetic biology technologies, and marked another £3.8 million for a competitive grant program to support industry-led efforts to develop new synthetic biology tools.