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UK Plans to Award $124M for Synthetic Biology Centers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK is preparing a program that will use as much as £80 million ($124.4 million) to create a network of multidisciplinary synthetic biology research centers (SBRCs) that will serve as cores for research projects and provide scientists with training and resources.

The funding program is a response to the government's Synthetic Biology Roadmap from last year, which recommended that such a network be created to help boost the UK's synthetic biology capabilities.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the program will include two funding calls, one in 2013-2014 and another in 2014-2015, BBSRC said yesterday. Each funding call will establish up to three SBRCs.

The funders plan to award a total of £10 million in capital funding for each of the two phases, and each phase will provide up to an additional £2 million per year to each center for five years.

This network of SBRCs will be tasked with creating and sustaining a program of synthetic biology research in strategic areas; creating a collaborative culture and providing a supportive environment and necessary equipment and facilities for multidisciplinary research projects; advancing new research techniques; and boosting the number of postdocs and technical staff that are trained in key areas.

The centers will be expected to focus on strategic areas that are relevant to one or more industrial sector, such as the life sciences, medicine and healthcare, energy, agriculture and food, the environment, and diagnostics. They also are expected to "provide the essential equipment and facilities required to enable adoption and uptake of synthetic biology approaches and, where appropriate, make this available to the wider community," said BBSRC.

The SBRCs also will bring together researchers working on experimental science with others who are studying the ethical, legal, and social issues related to synthetic biology.

The BBSRC said the first of these funding calls is expected to open this June.