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UK government establishing £10M center for synthetic biology with focus on industrialization

The UK is launching a new £10-million (US$15-million) Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) to translate the emerging field of synthetic biology into application and provide a bridge between academia and industry. The IKC, to be called SynbiCITE, will be based at Imperial College London and led by Professor Richard Kitney and Professor Paul Freemont.

The main aim of SynbiCITE will be to act as an Industrial Translation Engine that can integrate university- and industry-based research in synthetic biology into industrial process and products. Announcing the funding at SB6.0 (the 6th International Conference on Synthetic Biology), David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:

Synthetic biology has huge potential for our economy and society in so many areas, from life sciences to agriculture. But to realize this potential we need to ensure researchers and business work together. This new Innovation and Knowledge Centre will help advance scientific knowledge and turn cutting edge research into commercial success.

SynbiCITE is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research (BBSRC) and Technology Strategy Board. It will receive initial grant funding of £5 million, with a further £5 million to be awarded over the next two years.

The Centre will be a national resource and involve researchers from a further 17 universities and academic institutions across the UK, as well as 13 industrial partners, including the research arms of Microsoft, Shell and GlaxoSmithKline.

Synthetic Biology could be the next “industrial revolution” for the UK, where tiny devices manufactured from cells are used by us to improve many facets of our lives. From producing new, more sustainable fuels to developing devices that can monitor or improve our health, the applications in this field are limitless.

—Professor Richard Kitney, co-academic of SynbiCITE from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial

Many researchers, policy makers and governments are anticipating that synthetic biology will provide a range of benefits to society in sectors such as human health; agriculture and food production; environmental protection and remediation; bioenergy and chemical production.

Minister Willetts identified it as one of the Eight Great Technologies that the UK needs to prioritize and the 2012 Autumn Statement announced significant investment in the field. Establishing the IKC was one of the recommendations of the UK Roadmap for Synthetic Biology, published in July 2012.

(The Eight Great Technologies are: the big data revolution and energy-efficient computing; satellites and commercial applications of space; robotics and autonomous systems; life sciences, genomics and synthetic biology; regenerative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials and nano-technology; and energy and its storage.)

SynbiCITE is the seventh IKC with the aim of commercializing emerging technologies through creating early stage critical mass in an area of disruptive technology.

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