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£13.6m grant to establish new research centre in synthetic biology

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Press release issued: 30 January 2014

A research centre in synthetic biology will be established at the University of Bristol thanks to a £13.6million grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Rt Hon David Willetts MP announced today.

Professor Guy Orpen, the University's Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research said: "This is huge fillip for the University and its partners in our bid to establish Bristol as a UK and world leader in the emerging field of synthetic biology."

The award, which is spread over five years, was made following an open competition to which fifteen consortia applied and three bids were successful.

Professor Dek Woolfson of the University's Schools of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who will be Director of the Centre, said: "We are over the moon. This is the culmination of hard work from a number of us over the past five years to initiate synthetic biology research at the University.  It will now allow us to begin some extremely exciting multi-disciplinary and adventurous new research programmes."

Bristol is also a key SynbiCITE partner, an Innovation and Knowledge Centre led by Imperial College London and established to work with industry to translate synthetic biology research into applications.   Bristol also partners with the Universities of Oxford and Warwick in a BBSRC and EPSRC co-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Synthetic Biology

The Centre, which will be called BrisSynBio, brings together researchers and equipment across three Faculties at the University: Science, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, and Engineering. Deputy Director Dr Paul Race is from the University's School of Biochemistry. It also involves a partnership with the University of the West of England, notably in Robotics and Social Sciences.  BrisSynBio will be a distributed Centre but it will have a hub and physical space in the University's new Life Sciences Building.

Although Bristol’s emphasis in synthetic biology has been on developing the underpinning fundamental science, a key aspect of the field is useful biotech applications and BrisSynBio will lead here too. Specifically, it aims to use bacteria to produce fine chemicals and vaccines, amongst other applications.

The Centre will also continue the University’s nationally recognised work in public engagement in synthetic biology.

Please contact Dr Kathleen Sedgley for further information.

Additional funding of up to £1 million to enhance the Centre was announced by the Science Minister on 2 April 2014.  This includes funding for a dedicated synthetic biology laboratory in Oxford, accessible to all students throughout their PhD, and specialist facilities in Warwick and Bristol.  This will increase the breadth and depth of Synthetic Biology training by exposing students to a wide range of cutting-edge capabilities.