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New Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology launched

Press release issued: 27 March 2019

Building stripped-down versions of life using protocells, genome delivery systems and synthetic cytoskeletons comprise some of the groundbreaking research due to take place at a new Centre launched at the University of Bristol today [Wednesday 27 March]. The Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, a partnership between the University of Bristol and the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (MPG) in Germany, aims to advance the future of health and medicine by understanding the fundamental nature of life.

Minimal biology is a new emerging field at the interface between the physical and life sciences. It aims to design and build artificial cells, minimal genomes, virus-like nanodevices and new cellular scaffolds, and seeks to understand the foundations of life and how it arose from non-living matter.

Led by Bristol Professors Imre Berger (Biochemistry), Stephen Mann (Chemistry) and Dek Woolfson(Chemistry and Biochemistry), and Professors Joachim Spatz (Heidelberg), Tanja Weil (Mainz) and Petra Schwille (Munich) at Max Planck Institutes in Germany, the Centre will be based in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. A paramount objective is to train early career scientists in minimal biology and biodesign.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, said: "The establishment of this internationally recognised centre of excellence in this exciting and fast-emerging scientific field is testament to the expertise at Bristol and our German partners. The work of this Centre has the potential to provide the breakthrough knowledge needed to address some of the most complex challenges in fundamental science." 

Professor Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, added: "Joining forces is the only path to success in this vast research field. In the same vein that the human brain can't be understood as one single scientific challenge to be solved by one single research group at one certain point in time – in the same vein the construction of artificial bio-functions is likewise a maximally diverse field of research. We do not deal with a certain question but rather with platform technologies, with a toolbox that will allow us to start a totally new way of doing science."

Professor Joachim Spatz said: "We will strive to answer the question of what the defining principles of life are and how they may be partly engineered de novo by intelligent design. These are among the foremost questions of our time."

An event held at the University's Life Sciences Building today [Wednesday 27 March] marked the official launch of the new Max Planck-Bristol Centre (MPBC) for Minimal Biology.

The Centre, which is underpinned by BBSRCWellcome and ERC-funded research, will be presenting their work at the British Council Going Global 2019 Showcase in Berlin in May 2019.  Research at MPBC will start in August 2019.

Further information

What is Minimal Biology
Minimal biology is an emerging research field at the interface between the physical and life sciences.  It applies principles and methods from the former to construct new systems that mimic or augment living cells and organs.

About Bristol BioDesign Institute 
Bristol BioDesign Institute (BBI) is the University of Bristol's Specialist Research Institute for synthetic biology. With wide-ranging applications from health to food security, BBI combines pioneering synthetic biology approaches with understanding biomolecular systems to deliver the rational design and engineering of biological systems for useful purposes.

This is delivered through multidisciplinary research which brings together postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, academics, policy makers and industry, whilst also engaging the public with emerging solutions to global challenges.

About the Max Planck Society
The Max Planck Society conduct basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences, and humanities. Since its foundation in 1948, eighteen Nobel laureates have emerged from its ranks. The Max Planck Society with its 84 Max Planck Institutes and facilities is the international flagship for German science: in addition to five foreign institutions, it operates another 17 Max Planck Centers with research institutions such as the Princeton University in the USA, the Paris University Science Po in France, the University College London in UK, and the University of Tokyo in Japan. Equally funded by federal and state governments, the Max Planck Society had an annual budget of 1.7 billion Euros in 2017.

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