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UK to Add Nearly $1B in Science Spending to Budget; Synthetic Bio a Key Area

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government plans to add £600 million ($963.1 million) in additional funding over the next three years to the budget of the Research Councils UK (RCUK), the agency which funds the national science councils, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said this week.

RCUK said the funding will be used to support new research infrastructure and R&D aimed at strengthening the UK's competitiveness in four key areas: synthetic biology, big data and energy efficient computing, energy storage, and advanced materials.

The new investments will provide an additional £10 million in 2012-2013, £282 million in 2013-2014, and £308 million in 2014-2015.

The UK government has been on a synthetic biology spending spree of late, announcing in September that it will establish a center to serve as a hub for synthetic biology science, and last month it said that it would spend £20 million to fund several new research projects in this area.

The new efforts aimed at spurring and nurturing this technology area were in response to a July report that urged the UK to take specific measures to make it a global leader in synthetic biology research and business, which the government sees as a significant growth field going forward.

RCUK Chair Rick Rylance said this week that the new investment will enable the research councils "to provide an infrastructure essential for the sustainability of UK research competitiveness, and it will support the UK in maximizing its innovation potential and driving economic growth."

The chancellor also said that Prime Minister David Cameron next month will issue a life sciences strategy document that will lay out steps that the government has taken and will take to support the nation's life sciences sector.

The additional funding will buttress a UK science budget that has been weakened in recent years as part of a broader fiscal austerity effort launched by the Cameron-led coalition government in 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, the UK science budget has been predicted to be lower than 2010, as much as 14 percent lower between 2012 and 2014, according to an analysis produced by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

An analysis produced by the same organization last year showed that by Fiscal Year 2014-2015 the UK would have spent £1.6 billion less than it would have if funding had been kept at the 2010 level over the five-year period, though some of that decline has been made up through additional funding such as this new £600 million investment, CaSE pointed out.