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Synthetic biology


World-class bioscience is critically dependent on new technologies, methodologies and resources. This priority aims to encourage research that will yield the next-generation of these 'new ways of working'. Projects should focus on underpinning and enabling one of the BBSRC strategic research priorities (food security, industrial biotechnology, bioscience underpinning health) or have potential, generic utility across one or more broad areas of the biosciences.

Scientific scope

BBSRC is keen to encourage proposals in the emerging area of synthetic biology, which can be described as the design and construction of novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, as well as redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes (ref 1). It incorporates the principles of engineering (e.g. modularity, abstraction and orthogonality) into classical biotechnology, and has a number of potential applications within the bio-based knowledge economy. These include: industrial biotechnology, bioenergy, bioprocessing, novel materials and biosensors.

Within this context, BBSRC is keen to encourage proposals in the following areas.

  • Minimal genomes: Understanding the minimal number of parts needed for life, to serve as a basis for engineering minimal cell factories for new functions
  • Orthogonal biosystems: Expanding genetic information storage and adding coding capacity
  • Regulatory circuits: Designing synthetic gene circuits that may be based on standard biological parts
  • Metabolic engineering: Engineering biosynthetic pathways to yield useful products and overcoming/removing elements that block production
  • Protocells: Bottom-up chemical design approaches to create new cells
  • Bionanoscience: Utilising and exploiting synthetic molecular machines based on cellular systems

Outputs and impacts


It is expected that proposals will require strong multidisciplinary partnerships between bioscientists and researchers in the physical sciences, engineering and information technology disciplines.

Data sharing

Proposals should comply with BBSRC's Data Sharing Policy (see related links). Proposals developing informatics tools should make such tools available to the wider user and developer community with as few restrictions as possible, ideally using open source best practices (e.g. Creative Commons or Open Source Initiative recommended licences). However, BBSRC recognises that, at times, the creators' intellectual property rights may need protected before any sharing takes place, and this is encouraged where appropriate beforehand. Such protection should not unduly delay the release of any data/tools arising from BBSRC funding.

Pathways to impact

It is expected that proposals will provide tools and resources of potential application to broad communities in the biosciences.

Ethical and other issues

BBSRC recognises that synthetic biology raises potential social, ethical, legal and philosophical issues and that these should be considered concomitantly with the scientific agenda and as research progresses.


  1. Realising European potential in synthetic biology: scientific opportunities and good governance European Academies Science Advisory Council (2010) (see downloads)