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Call for applications - Synthetic biology for new diagnostics, sensors and lightweight materials

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council website Medical Research Council website Visit the DSTL website

20 September 2011

Researchers are invited to apply for funding from a new Joint Synthetic Biology Initiative, which has made up to £2.4M available from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The aim of the initiative is to fund a cohort of preliminary, short, innovative, proof-of-concept speculative scientific investigations that seek to explore the potential applicability of synthetic biology to the UK's current and future national security and defence needs. The research will be conducted in line with relevant international conventions.

Projects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Research that can underpin novel sensors, detectors and diagnostic approaches, including in-field devices.
  • Development of new materials and methods for decontamination
  • Development of new materials and methods for trauma care, including wound management and healing
  • Smart materials and coatings, especially those that can reduce the weight of equipment
  • Improvements to bioprocesses or metabolic engineering to support technology development, such as the above, with the production of biologics or small molecules

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "Synthetic biology has a wide range of potential applications, from discovering medical breakthroughs to meeting our future energy needs. This unique collaboration will help ensure the UK research community is equipped with the knowledge and skills to make the most of this promising area of science and bring long term benefits to the economy."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "Through this collaboration we have identified a shared interest in biosensors, diagnostics, and new materials that has allowed us to leverage funds to support a cohort of research in synthetic biology. This is a good opportunity for BBSRC to invest in research that will expand the field of synthetic biology through the development of knowledge, tools and technologies; capacity building; and strengthened networks of researchers in academia and industry."

Professor Andy Bell, Chief Technical Officer, Dstl said: "Synthetic biology is an emerging multi-disciplinary technology that has the potential to address some highly relevant current and future issues facing defence and security science. We really hope this call will result in us being able to tap into the widest available capability base in order to develop greater understanding of the future impact of this emerging technology on the defence and security of the UK".

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive, EPSRC said "Engineering and physical sciences are key disciplines that underpin, and enable the advancement of synthetic biology. This call presents an exciting opportunity for the community to work in collaborative teams to develop and apply engineering principles and tools to explore the possibility of new technologies based on synthetic biology."

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said "The exciting field of synthetic biology offers researchers new opportunities to explore long-standing problems in biology with fresh eyes. The Medical Research Council is pleased to be partnering BBSRC, DSTL and EPSRC in an area that could offer innovative approaches to diagnosing disease and developing new materials and treatments, particularly for those recovering from trauma and injuries. By approaching this from a multidisciplinary perspective from the outset, we have a great opportunity to explore the intricacies of cell biology with new tools and further improve our collective understanding and relevance to human disease."

The call is led by BBSRC and is expected to fund approximately 20 high quality projects, which will typically cost up to £120k with duration between 6 and 24 months.

The closing date for proposals is on Tuesday 22 November 2011, 4pm (BST). Details on eligibility and instructions for application are available here:



BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: .