BrisSynBio Director Imre Berger welcomes you to the BrisSynBio website. Here he explains more about the emerging field of synthetic biology, how it is being supported within the UK, the main objectives and research portfolio of BrisSynBio, and our activities beyond basic research.
What is synthetic biology?
Synthetic biology is an emerging field that aims to improve our understanding of biology; and to pave the way to engineering biological and biologically inspired systems predictably, reliably and responsibly. The hope is that, equipped with new knowledge and better engineering tools, scientists will be able to engineer and design biological systems to tackle key issues facing humanity, including for example the cost-effective production of new drugs and biofuels. In addition, synthetic biology aims to lay the foundations for new application areas in biotechnology that we cannot imagine at present. These are rather lofty and far-off goals, and there is a lot of work to be done to achieve them.
Investment in synthetic biology
In recognition of both the need for basic research in synthetic biology and the potential for translation in the area, the UK Government via the Research Councils have begun an investment programme to underpin and grow synthetic-biology research and development in the UK. This responds to recommendations of the UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap, one of which was to establish academia-led Synthetic Biology Research Centres. BrisSynBio is one of these centres. The Research Councils have provided £13.5M as initial funding for BrisSynBio, and currently we have raised a further £3.4M from the University of Bristol, and from industrial and other partners.
Objectives of BrisSynBio
The overall scientific objectives of BrisSynBio are to improve our abilities to design and engineer biological systems by understanding them from the bottom up; and to apply this knowledge in applications relevant to health and UK industry. By and large, this means learning about and manipulating biological molecules, in particular proteins, which are the workhorses of biology. That said, and despite this focus our programme is diverse and multi-disciplinary. For example, we have ambitious 4 – 5 year research projects aimed at: producing agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals in bacteria; designing protein-based nanoparticles as a basis for new vaccines against dengue fever and other unmet clinical needs; and developing new methods to increase the yield of wheat.
Building a multi-disciplinary team
This broad range of research requires a committed and multi-talented team of researchers and support staff. Therefore, one of our main goals in our first year has been to bring together academic scientists, social scientists, university administrators and industrialists to deliver our research programme and other goals. This team now comprises: 53 principal and associate investigators, who lead 10 current research projects; with 21 researchers to deliver the science; and currently 5 industrial partners, with whom we are working to translate any suitable discoveries. BrisSynBio is supported by a management team, which comprises the Director, Scientific Manager, Technical Lead, Innovations Manager, Executive Assistant and Administrator. As described below, we also strong involvement from social scientists, and those working in public engagement in synthetic biology.
Public engagement and openness
We are committed to Public Engagement in Synthetic Biology, and will be holding regular events on this with our own Centre for Public Engagement and our partner the University of the West of England. With openness in mind, this website currently has completely accessible parts, which are designed to introduce the public, academics, industrialists and other interested parties to what we do, and to highlight the expertise and facilities that we have brought together. Please browse our pages, and if something takes your interest, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the BrisSynBio Team or one of the named Project Leads. For BrisSynBio members, the website will also have intranet components, such as calendars for booking BrisSynBio facilities and so on. For reasons that I trust you will understand, these parts of the site are not accessible to others. Otherwise, we will endeavour to make news and summaries of academic and public-facing activities available as soon as possible.