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UK Pumps $6.6M into Synthetic Biology Fellowships

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK government has awarded £3.9 million ($6.6 million) to fund four new research fellowship projects that will that apply engineering techniques to synthetic biology research, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said on Friday.

These four projects are part of a round of £13 million in fellowship grants aimed at nurturing and advancing the UK's scientific talent in three areas, including synthetic biology, advanced materials, and robotic and autonomous systems.

The synthetic biology projects will include studies seeking to apply control engineering techniques, such as those used in ordinary mechanical devices and technologies, to biologically based parts such as cells, EPSRC said.

These awards include a £1.1 million grant to the University of Oxford for a study that will include partners at Microsoft, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. These partners will develop new bio-feedback modules to target specific uncertainties in the cell, with the aim of proving that their designs can be made to scale at different levels, including the genetic, signaling, and cell-to-cell levels.

A group led by Imperial College London, and including partners at Microsoft, Lonza, Synthace, and other universities, will use £1 million to develop a comprehensive engineering approach to improve robustness in synthetic biology tools that could be used in cell-based biotechnology and biomedicine.

Another Imperial College London-based team won a grant of £963,000 to work with partners that include Agilent Technologies and SynBioBeta, among others, to develop measurement tools to help enable programmable functional biomaterials.

A University of Sheffield team will use £843,000 to establish a new technology called the SimCell (simple and simulated cell), a biochemically active, designable, and simplified agent which can be continuously produced by engineered parent cells but which cannot reproduce itself – a trait that would make it more publicly acceptable than living genetically modified organisms.

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