JIC receives a share of £20M investment for UK Synthetic Biology research

9th Nov 2012

Professor Giles Oldroyd of the John Innes Centre has been awarded £2.5M from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) to begin developing cereal crops that can ‘fix’ their own nitrogen, making their own fertiliser. This is part of £20M of funding for synthetic biology projects announced by the Chancellor George Osborne to investigate major global challenges, such as reducing agriculture’s reliance on nitrogen fertilisers. The aim is to initiate the first steps of nitrogen fixation in wheat, the major UK cereal crop and global staple. It complements the recent funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focused on maize, a staple crop for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a move that could potentially revolutionise major UK industries and help us to meet serious social and environmental challenges, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has announced an unprecedented £20M worth of synthetic biology projects. The funding was announced by the Chancellor George Osborne today at the Royal Society.

The six projects focus on biotechnology and advanced bioenergy and will use synthetic biology to investigate major global challenges, such as producing low-carbon fuel and reducing the cost of industrial raw materials. The funding will also help to build a world-leading synthetic biology research community in the UK.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Synthetic biology could provide solutions to the global challenges we face and offers significant growth opportunities in a range of important sectors from health to energy. However the commercialisation of basic science is largely untapped.

“This investment is part of the Government’s commitment to making the UK a world leader in the research and application of synthetic biology. It will help to ensure that academics and industry can realise its full potential.”

The grants are part of BBSRC’s Strategic Longer and Larger Awards scheme, which give world-leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance. The grants form a network of investment in synthetic biology for the Knowledge Based Bioeconomy.

The awards were supported by contributions of nearly £3M from industry and three of the awards were co-funded in partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which contributed nearly £2M.

The announcement comes following the government’s response to the Synthetic Biology Roadmap which sets out a shared vision for realising the potential of synthetic biology in the UK. The response welcomed recommendations to develop an internationally recognised world-leading synthetic biology research base and to deliver research responsibly and in a coordinated way.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: “This funding is a major step in exploring the capacity of synthetic biology to develop useful applications. The investment recognises the important role that synthetic biology can play in addressing many of the grand challenges we face, and in helping to provide future prosperity.”


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