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UW-Madison Lands $1M Keck Funding for Synthetic Biology Foundries

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Four interdisciplinary teams of investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison plan to use a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to combine biology and engineering to develop synthetic biology foundries, UW-Madison said today.

Consisting of a suite of computational tools, instrumentation, hardware fabrication languages, and tailored small molecules, the foundries will be designed to make it easier and faster to synthesize new genomes.

UW said that if the researchers' plan is successful, it will "revolutionize genome production" by enabling academic and industrial communities to use synthetic biology to invent new designs based on novel genomes and to apply these technologies in a range of research areas and applications.

The UW investigators leading the effort include Professor Aseem Ansari of the Genome Center of Wisconsin, Chemical and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor Jennifer Reed; Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Parmesh Ramanathan, and Chemistry and Genetics Professor David Schwartz of the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

"The complexity of genomic structure and our limited understanding of biological processes requires the development of new methods in order to successfully model, and potentially re-design, a biological system," Donna Paulnock, associate dean of the UW-Madison Graduate School, said in a statement.

"If this works, it will completely change the paradigm," added Ansari. "All of a sudden, the main intellectual, technological, and financial roadblocks are removed."

Ansari also said that funding from the Keck Foundation is enabling the teams to "commit graduate students and postdocs to this high-risk, high-reward project and put our ideas to the test. I don't think there are many other sources that would commit to early-stage technology on this scale."

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