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Roadmap marks milestone for UK synthetic biology

13 July 2012

BBSRC has welcomed the publication of the Synthetic Biology Roadmap. The roadmap provides the vision and direction for supporting a world-leading synthetic biology community in the UK. The roadmap, produced by an independent panel of experts for the government's Department for Business Innovation and Skills, sets out a shared vision for realising the potential of synthetic biology in the UK.

Commenting on the roadmap, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: "Synthetic Biology has the ability to revolutionise major industries in bio-energy and bio-technology in the UK. If we develop this exciting area to its full potential there are fantastic opportunities in sectors such as bio-fuel and medical care that are largely untapped. This roadmap positions the UK as a leader in global synthetic biology, which presents significant growth and employment opportunities."

The recommendations in the roadmap align interests towards future growth opportunities, whilst identifying the resources and support needed to accelerate progress in the shorter term.

The roadmap outlines five key recommendations:

  1. Invest in a network of multidisciplinary centres to establish an outstanding UK synthetic biology resource.
  2. Build a skilled, energised and well-funded UK-wide synthetic biology community.
  3. Invest to accelerate technology responsibly to market.
  4. Assume a leading international role.
  5. Establish a leadership council.

Lionel Clarke, Chairman of the UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group, said: "Synthetic biology has the potential to deliver significant benefits, addressing important challenges and generating exciting opportunities for growth - but much work needs to be done and has to be done responsibly. Engaging the synthetic biology community in shaping this roadmap has contributed a first step towards realising this potential, through building a shared vision."

BBSRC formed part of a coordination group, which included a wide range of stakeholders such as including academics and industrialists, steering the development of the roadmap.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: "The UK is world-leading on the global stage of bioscience and, thanks to huge progress in our understanding of biological systems, we have reached an important milestone in realising the capacity of synthetic biology to develop useful applications."

"We have the perfect environment to be leaders in the internationally-expanding field of synthetic biology and this roadmap will help the community to deliver responsibly and in a coordinated way. BBSRC has made big investment in this area, recognising the important role that it can play in addressing many of the grand challenges we face, and in helping to provide future prosperity."

Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology is the design and engineering of biologically based parts, novel devices and systems as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems, for a useful purpose. It has the potential to deliver important new applications and improve existing industrial processes - resulting in economic growth and job creation.

Specific applications are already emerging, but its long-term potential for a range of industrial sectors (e.g. industrial biotechnology, bioenergy and healthcare) remains largely untapped.

Recommendations

The recommendations in the roadmap help to shape the future of synthetic biology and point towards multidisciplinary synthetic biology centres in existing higher education establishments and an extension of the UK-wide synthetic biology community. The formation of an overarching network, an annual forum, and funding competitions to support the development of novel applications were also suggested.

Responsible research and innovation was a key theme in the document, including the need for awareness, training and adherence to regulatory frameworks. The roadmap sets out plans to ensure that this technology continues to be developed in a socially responsible fashion. The UK has already initiated public dialogue in synthetic biology and encouraged interaction between regulators and funders.

The need for the UK to build on its current strengths and assume a leading international role in synthetic biology to set standards and shape future regulations was also highlighted and recommendations included participating in trans-national grant funding, hosting international conferences and continuing to foster coordinated efforts in synthetic biology through research partnerships.

Investment

The roadmap highlights vital investment in the area to date and the need for further funding: "Funding for synthetic biology has been consistently applied by UK research councils since 2007, totalling more than £62M ($95M) to date."

Funding for BBSRC's synthetic Biology Portfolio to date is £39.7M and additional funding is due to be announced soon, including the results from a call for long-term, large-scale grants within which synthetic biology for white biotechnology was a priority.

The roadmap was presented to the Minister during a visit to TMO Renewables, a UK company, established with long-term support from BBSRC, which uses synthetic biology techniques in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.

View the roadmap here: www.rcuk.ac.uk/publications/reports/syntheticbiologyroadmap/

ENDS

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Contact

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