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Joining the dots in UK synthetic biology

Posted on 08/11/2016

KTN manages the Synthetic Biology Special Interest Group (SynBio SIG), which collates synthetic biology news and disseminates information on relevant events and funding opportunities.

Harnessing the power of chemical reactions in biology could to develop new and complex molecules.

Biology has found fantastically clever and efficient ways of conducting complex chemical reactions. If we could harness this power, we could cheaply and sustainably make complex molecules that are currently very difficult, too expensive or simply impossible to produce by other methods. We could also use biological machines to detect minute quantities of chemical or biological entities and make complex decisions.

However biology is also inherently messy and unpredictable.  A single genetic change can have a knock-on effect on huge numbers of other processes. Synthetic biology attempts to overcome these issues by application of engineering principles to biology. This approach is still in its infancy but is already yielding exciting new products and services including helping us better understand flue strains and create new vaccines. Using synthetic biology-based engineering techniques, the British based company Oxitec has been able to introduce genetically modified mosquitos that help reduce the spread of diseases such as Dengue Fever and Zika. Synthetic biology also enables us to clean up our environment by building organisms to consume toxic chemicals in water or soil that would otherwise not decompose.

UK synthetic biology has benefited from some very proactive policy making. The 2012 Synthetic Biology Roadmap supported the selection of synthetic biology as one the UK’s ‘Eight Great Technologies’ and led to a raft of funding including new synthetic biology centres, DNA synthesis facilities and a commercialisation hub (around $450M of public investment in total). The 2016 UK synthetic biology strategy focussed on the translation of the UK’s excellent science into economic return and social benefit.

At the heart of this translation process is the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) . Established to build better links between science, creativity and business, the KTN brings together businesses, entrepreneurs, academics and funders to develop new products, processes and services. KTN manages the Synthetic Biology Special Interest Group (SynBio SIG), which collates synthetic biology news and disseminates information on relevant events and funding opportunities.