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Imperial College London and London School of Economics Establish Centre for Synthetic Biology

Imperial College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) are establishing a Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation. The Centre is supported by an £8 million (US$11.8 million) grant from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of EPSRC’s effort to push the UK to the forefront of this field.

The Centre will focus on the combination of the fields of engineering with molecular biology to produce biologically-based parts through the modification of DNA that could be use to build bio-based devices.

Imperial’s Professor Paul Freemont, who is Co-Director of the Centre, says that in the next 20 to 50 years research in this field will get to the point where synthetic biology techniques will have the precision of electronics. Currently, biology is much more complicated and less understood.

Initially, researchers at the Center will focus on developing standard systems and specifications to create these parts. This will involve modifying DNA, inserting it into cells, and cataloguing what these cells do. These will then be used to assemble devices for use in a range of applications.

The College will work closely with LSE to inform the public about the research that will be carried out at the Centre. This will involve lectures and outreach activities about the potential benefits of synthetic biology and its public value.

LSE will also train researchers at the Centre in the social, ethical, legal, and political issues surrounding this emerging field. These include examining the social and economic impacts of biotechnology, and developing practices of regulation and good governance.

The Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation is part of Imperial’s Institute for Systems and Synthetic Biology—a multidisciplinary, multi faculty institute focused on developing novel approaches to research in biology, medicine and engineering. The new centre will be based in the Faculty of Engineering and will work closely with the Department of Bioengineering and life sciences.



While this is technically an engineering and science issue - schools like this should consider adding a funded social science component. Synthetic biology, more than other sciences, has enormous implications for social systems. All too often social scientists and ethicists are left out of the faculty.

While developing a new technology, it would be good to develop a new form of staffing. That is, mandate sociologists, and ethicists teach alongside the biologists. It is never too soon to consider the long term ethical and social implications of potentially disruptive science.

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