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A Living Foundry for Synthetic Biological Materials

Posted on 20/06/2018

A new report looks at opportunities for synthetic biology in advanced materials.

Synthetic biology integrates knowledge and expertise from chemistry, biology, computer science and engineering to design and construct new biological parts, devices and systems, and re-design existing biological systems for useful purposes. It has the potential to transform the industrial biotechnology landscape, bringing with it a revolution in bio-sustainable and affordable manufacturing.

Professor Nigel Scrutton and Dr Ros Le Feuvre  of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) at Manchester University have published a report with the title “A Living Foundry for Synthetic Biological Materials – A Synthetic Biology Roadmap to New Advanced Materials.”

This Roadmap, which developed from an international workshop held in Manchester in 2017, sets out to identify opportunities in the new “Materials from Biology” era and to propose a mechanism to accelerate their commercial development.

The key recommendations from the report are:

  1. A Living Foundry for Synthetic Biological Materials. An opportunity to interconnect and harness existing UK assets and capabilities in synthetic biology, materials science and allied disciplines, innovation and partner institutions to create a  foundry concept that establishes a Discovery to Innovation pipeline to accelerate the discovery of new Advanced Materials and achieve rapid translation to market of Synthetic Biological Materials.
  2. Co-development to Meet ‘Unmet Needs’. Internationalise the UK Hub and Spokes model to facilitate academic, industrial and government co-development of research programmes to ensure early appreciation of unmet needs, commercial challenges and implementation of frontier science and technology to deliver these needs.
  3. Early Delivery of Next Generation Advanced Materials. Identify areas of focus for early investments that can be delivered using the Living Foundry concept to demonstrate the power of Synthetic Biology methods in the delivery of the Synthetic Biological Materials paradigm.
  4. Industrial Challenges. Coordinated foundry support would allow longer-term development to a point of pre-commercial demonstrator status, which will “de-risk” and lower investment barriers for industry and investors, supported through engagement and foresight benefit mapping in the early design process.
  5. Innovation and Training for Growth. Embed a culture of continual innovation and training in the Hub and Spokes to ensure an expert workforce can meet the demands of growth in a burgeoning sector and that capability platforms can support increased demands for quicker and more predictable discovery and translation of Synthetic Biological Materials and further inward investment.
  6. Complete Ecosystem for Synthetic Biological Materials. Within the Hub and Spokes infrastructure, develop an ecosystem for creative interdisciplinary Synthetic Biological Materials innovators of the future. This will retain and foster a depth of specialist scientific and technical knowledge, foresight and strategy implementation to meet commercial and business needs, support an ‘ideas factory’ for early co-development of programmes and, in working with partners, stimulate inclusive debate and knowledge of wider regulatory, acceptability and compliance issues.

In the conclusion to the report, the authors say:

“The UK is a world leader in the fields of synthetic biology and advanced materials and it has made unprecedented investments in these separate fields in recent years. Unification of these fields will create major opportunities for new materials discovery, their sustainable and affordable manufacture and application to unmet needs for industry. The timing is now right to harness national and international capabilities in the foundational sciences and industries through coordination and new investment to underpin sector challenges that will accelerate the translation of new Advanced Materials. This will contribute to major growth in the UK and global economies and address major societal concerns in global Grand Challenge areas. The UK is uniquely positioned to capitalise on these developments and to take a global lead.”

You can download the report here.

This report formed the basis for a review which has now been published in Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology.

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