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New £12 million Synthetic Biology Centre to help drive advances in biotechnology, medicine and food security

abbreviation of WISB - Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology centre - in a biofilmResearchers at the University of Warwick have won a £12 Million award to create a new Centre to develop advanced technologies in synthetic biology. This research will help drive advances in pharmaceuticals, high-value and commodity chemicals, innovative treatments for disease, environmental bioremediation, and food security. It will also play a major role in helping us achieve a much better understanding of some of the key principles underpinning living systems.

Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, announced today Thursday 29th January 2015 that researchers at the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology centre (WISB) have been awarded a five-year £12 million grant. WISB brings together researchers from across the University in disciplines including Life Sciences, Engineering, Chemistry, Computer Science, Education, and Law.

Vince Cable announced the new Centre as part of a £40M investment in UK synthetic biology at the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology, where researchers are using the technology to investigate how to use bacteria in place of fossil fuels to produce the chemicals we need to manufacture a wide variety of everyday products from credit cards, to nappies, to Tupperware tubs.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and capital investment from UK Government.

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said:

“From materials for advanced manufacturing to developing new antibiotics and better tests for diseases, this new £40 million investment is in one of the most promising areas of modern science.

“It will see our world class researchers using bacteria to produce chemicals to make everyday products like toothbrushes and credit cards, which are currently made from unsustainable fossil fuels. Not only will this help improve people’s everyday lives in the future but it will support long-term economic growth.”

Warwick will provide a comprehensive research, training and outreach programme in synthetic biology that is unique in the UK. This will use predictive biosystems engineering as the primary driver of sustainable innovation in synthetic biology and its applications. WISB is also part of the UK’s only synthetic biology doctoral training programme.

Professor John McCarthy of the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences and Director of WISB (SLS):

“We are delighted to receive this strategically important UK Synthetic Biology Centre Award. Synthetic biology has huge potential to generate valuable processes and products for biotechnology and medicine, as well as new understanding of the fundamental principles that underpin living systems. WISB is building a globally recognized presence as a centre of excellence in research and training in Synthetic Biology, and this grant from BBSRC and EPSRC will help us enormously in achieving our goals.”

WISB Co-Directors, Professor Declan Bates (University of Warwick’s School of Engineering) and Professor Orkun Soyer (University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences) have made a video that explains the potential of Synthetic Biology to transform scientific research and create new opportunities for investors:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jeQQgXmiiY

Synthetic biology is a new way of doing science that applies engineering principles to biology to make and build new biological parts, devices and systems. It’s being used to make biological ‘factories’ that make useful products like medicines, chemicals and green energy, as well as tools for improving crops. Examples include biofuels and anti-malaria drugs made by microbes like yeast or bacteria. Synthetic biology has been identified by the UK Government as one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which Great Britain can be a world leader.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Jackie Hunter, said: “Through previous investments BBSRC, along with funding partners, has been able to position the UK as a world leader in synthetic biology. This new package of investments will ensure that the UK maintains this leadership position and continues to drive the potential of synthetic biology to contribute to the economy and society.”

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Philip Nelson, said: “Synthetic Biology is a multi-disciplinary field that needs world class research and skills if progress is to be made. Previous government investments through the research councils have put us at the leading edge in this area. These centres are yet another example of how investing in science and engineering can strengthen the UK’s long term economic future.”

One of the advanced technologies used by the WISB team is the ability to engineer biofilms of bacteria to exhibit required behaviours such as forming pre-determined shapes – and in the link below you can see how the researchers have created the abbreviation ‘WISB’ in a biofilm:

 http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/communications/medialibrary/images/october2014/t.jpg

This is the work of Dr Munehiro Asally of the WISB team, who studies biofilms formed by the Gram-positive soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis. It is one of the best characterized model systems for biofilm research.

John and Vince

Note for editors: WISB will work closely with academic and industrial partners in the UK and abroad. It is developing an expanding international network of academic partners, currently including the Centre of Synthetic Biology in Boston (CoSBi), the Biomass Systems and Synthetic Biology Centre in São Paulo (BSSB), Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona (UPF) and the Spanish National Biotechnology Centre in Madrid (CNB). It is also working together with industrial partners such as Evolva, Isomerase, Microsoft Research, Midven, NewGenBiogas and Syngenta. These academic and industrial networks provide a platform for promoting excellent research and training on a global scale. WISB’s web site is http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/wisb/

For further information please contact:

Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy, University of Warwick, email: p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)24 76 523708 Mobile/Cell: +44 (0)7767 655860

or

Contact: Rob Dawson, BBSRC Head of News, rob.dawson@bbsrc.ac.uk

PR20 PJD 29th January 2015