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UK Plans $10M in Grants to Spur Synthetic Bio Business Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government plans to provide a boost to the nation's synthetic biology sector under a new initiative that will provide nearly £6.5 million ($10.2 million) in research funding.

The Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology initiative will fund competitive grants going to companies and research organizations of any size to conduct feasibility studies that show how synthetic biology can be used in commercial settings.

Funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Economic and Social Research Council, those grants will provide up to £375,000 to each project. The efforts must be business-led and collaborative and are expected to last between 12 and 18 months, BBSRC said in a statement.

"This investment will help businesses understand how best to use synthetic biology responsibly to find solutions to major societal issues and deliver future growth and prosperity," Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said when he announced the grant program at the University of East Anglia on Friday. "Synthetic biology is a promising area of science with a wide range of possible applications with huge commercial potential," he said, adding that the UK's research base already "has excellent capability in this area."

Willetts also last week unveiled a £5 million ($7.9 million) grant, funded by the EPSRC, to a consortium of universities to develop a Web-based synthetic biology platform.

The UK sees synthetic biology as a possible driver of economic growth in a range of sectors including medicine and energy creation.

According to the BBSRC, the global market for synthetic biology is expected to be worth more than $10 billion in 2016, with high levels of growth between now and then in a wide range of product areas.

Demonstrating the feasibility of synthetic biology-based technologies is critical to determining whether an innovation "will move from the scientifically possible to the technologically real," BBSRC stated, and these grants will enable businesses to demonstrate that feasibility in commercial situations.

These projects will identify a specific commercial opportunity for synthetic biology and will test its feasibility through experiments. Applicants for the funding also will be expected to consider any ethical, social, and regulatory implications related to the use of their technologies.

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