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Newcastle University experts get £5m synthetic biology grant

Newcastle University

Reserachers in the North East have been awarded a multi-million pound grant to develop new technology which could lead to breakthroughs for healthcare and the environment.

Experts at Newcastle University are playing a leading role in the new project, which has just secured almost £5m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The academics are looking to develop new technology in the emerging field of synthetic biology, with support from research teams at Imperial and Kings Colleges London, plus Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. Professor Anil Wipat, from the university’s school of computing science, is leading Newcastle’s side of the project.

He said: “This work builds on ongoing cutting-edge work in the application of computing principles and technology to the design of novel, commercially valuable biological systems. “This is an unrivalled opportunity to develop the infrastructure necessary to produce new and useful innovations for medicine, agriculture and the environment.”

The application of synthetic biology will both replace existing inefficient production processes and speed up the development of new processes and products for a wide range of industrial sectors, including chemical, biofuels and healthcare industries.

Newcastle University will play a major role in the project, leading the computational design and the development of industrially relevant bacterial strains. Announcing the grant, Science and Technology Minister David Willetts said: “Synthetic biology could provide solutions to many of humanity’s most pressing issues and at the same time presents significant growth opportunities.

“This investment will lay the groundwork for the commercialisation of research, ensuring academics and industry can realise the full potential of this exciting area of science.”

Another goal of the project is to create a UK infrastructure for synthetic biology that will be widely available to universities throughout the UK and beyond.

Newcastle University is a centre of excellence for computing science and bacterial cell biology, and has been active in synthetic biology for more than a decade. The university’s synthetic biology focus integrates world-leading expertise from across a wide variety of disciplines including computing science, engineering, maths and molecular biosciences.

Dr Kedar Pandya, EPSRC engineering theme leader, added: “Engineering research and leadership is critical to the further development of the UK’s synthetic biology sector. “Engineering technology provides the necessary product standardisation, robustness and design. “We will continue to grow the investment we make in this area so that the UK’s research base continues to be world-leading.”

The emerging technology has the potential to make a major contribution to the Government’s growth agenda, creating wealth and employment. Synthetic biology could provide solutions to many of humanity’s pressing issues.

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