The University of Nottingham has received funding to develop a Synthetic Biology Research Centre which will provide groundbreaking sustainable routes to important chemicals.
Thanks to funding from Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Professor Nigel Minton and his team, will use synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms that can be used to manufacture the molecules and fuels that modern society needs in a cleaner and greener way.
They aim to use bacteria to convert gasses that are all around us (such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)) into more desirable and useful molecules, reducing our reliance on petrochemicals.
Professor Minton said: “The heightened concerns over global warming and fossil fuel supply, security and prices has led to a need for the production of hydrocarbons and energy by new, sustainable means. Nottingham’s new centre will provide a pioneering alternative approach – by using gas-fermenting microbes that are able to grow gases, such as CO and CO2.
“This amount of funding is a tremendous boost to our vision and means that we can accelerate our efforts towards the derivation non-petroleum based routes to the chemicals society needs without the consumption of valuable food or land resources.”
Nottingham is one of only three new multidisciplinary centres to receive part of a total £40m investment, which will be allocated over five years to boost national synthetic biology research capacity and ensure that there is diverse expertise to stimulate innovation in this area. The other centres are in Bristol and Cambridge/Norwich.
Technology of the future
The centres will offer a strong collaborative culture; provide essential state-of-the-art equipment, facilities, trained researchers and technical staff; drive advancement in modern synthetic biology research; and develop new technologies.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said: "Synthetic biology is one of the most promising areas of modern science, which is why we have identified it as one of the eight great British technologies of the future. Synthetic biology has the potential to drive economic growth but still remains relatively untapped and these new centres will ensure that the UK is at the forefront when it comes to commercialising these new technologies."
£10M was allocated to the synthetic biology research centres following the announcement of £600M capital investment for Research Councils in the autumn 2012 statement. BBSRC will fund just over 70% of the remaining costs and EPSRC is providing nearly 30%.
Synthetic biology is a revolutionary new way of doing bioscience which applies engineering principles to biology to make new biological parts, devices and systems. Synthetic biology builds on our knowledge of DNA sequencing and could be used to develop new medicines, chemicals and green energy sources as well as improving food crops across the world. Specific applications are already emerging, but its long-term potential for a range of industrial sectors remains largely untapped.