Award details

BrisSynBio: Bristol Centre for Synthetic Biology


The overarching goal of BrisSynBio will be to provide an intellectual and technical framework for innovative and collaborative research, facilitated by cutting-edge instrumentation. The focus will be on world-class fundamental science leading to transformative solutions to meet global challenges in healthcare, food security, and industrial biotechnology. BSB comprises 21 Core and >20 Associate Members, organised in 3 Research Strands and 3 Cross-cutting Themes that reflect Bristol strengths, and the potential for growth in synthetic biology both locally and nationally. Across these, initial BSB activity will progress 9 multidisciplinary synergy projects. The Associate Membership will be expanded to broaden BSB's research base for future diversification and development of new projects. BSB support staff and fellows would be co-located in the new University of Bristol Life Sciences Building. Over 5 years, BSB will support ~15 synthetic-biology synergy projects. Those outlined here account for ~2/3 of the funds requested, leaving ~1/3 for new projects. To ensure delivery on these and to enable future programmes, BSB research will be underpinned by existing and requested major facilities, e.g.: high-throughput liquid-handling robotics, NMR spectroscopy, and peptide synthesis; and high-performance computing. For added value and best practice, the new equipment would be co-located with existing equipment in Research Suites across 3 Faculties. To build the synthetic-biology community, locally and regionally, BSB will establish research meetings, seminars and an annual symposium. BSB outreach activities would include: public engagement; training for research staff in public engagement and responsible innovation; and fostering links with local and national industry and SMEs. BSB would work closely with our partner South West universities; the Imperial-led IKC in Synthetic Biology; the Bristol-Oxford-Warwick CDT; and other Synthetic Biology Research Centres


Synthetic biology is a new scientific discipline that aims to make the engineering of biological systems easier, more predictable and more reliable. Synthetic biologists aim to develop new techniques, technologies and reagents that will allow biological or biologically based products to be made easily, quickly and cheaply, and in sufficient quantities to make them useful. Advances in this area have the potential to provide us with new fuels, materials, diagnostics and medicines, and offer solutions to many of the major global challenges that we face today. For example providing sufficient food for the world's population and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. For synthetic biology to meet these challenges, however, will require the concerted efforts of large groups of scientists working together in teams combining their expertise, skills and knowledge. To achieve this we aim to establish BrisSynBio (BSB), a Bristol-based Synthetic Biology Research Centre, which will bring together a group of scientists from a range of different research backgrounds, e.g. biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering and robotics, mathematics and physics. BSB researchers will combine their expertise in such a way that global challenges can be met and resolved. Examples of the type of work that BSB scientists will carry out include: modifying biosynthetic pathways in microorganisms such to produce new antibiotics; assembling virus-like particles to present new routes to vaccines; building simple cells from scratch for use in the production of important but sometimes toxic chemicals; using red blood cells to deliver complex molecules like anti-cancer drugs directly to tumours; and reprograming bacteria to perform useful tasks like sensing environmental pollutants. Within the BSB, researchers will be organised into teams with complementary skills who will work together on these challenging projects. There will be lots of communication between the teams, and new and excitingresearch will emerge as a result. Teams will be linked together by cross-cutting themes to promote interdisciplinarity and exchange of ideas. To help foster and develop interactions further, BSB academics will attend monthly discussion meetings, and all BSB academics and researchers will attend monthly research seminars and an annual 2-day regional symposium. The University of Bristol has recently invested heavily in new buildings and laboratory space, perfect for housing BSB. Now we need further investment to purchase the essential equipment that we will need to underpin and progress our research, and also to attract more scientists to expand synthetic-biology activities. We will also work in collaboration with a range of different project partners including researchers form around the world, the public and policy makers, and industrialists, such that we can maximise the impact of BrisSynBio. Finally, synthetic biology is not without controversy, the notion of tinkering with biology and life does not sit comfortably with everyone. Therefore, it is very important that all BrisSynBio members are trained to consider the ethical, legal and social implications of their work, placing it in a broader societal context. To achieve this BSB members will be trained in responsible innovation and public engagement, and encouraged to put these new skills into practice through commercialising their work where appropriate, and at 6-monthly science cafes and public dialogues.

Impact Summary

1. TRAINING BrisSynBio will recruit the most-promising early career researchers to its PDRA and Fellowship positions. Through its multidisciplinary projects, seminar programmes, outreach activities and courses, BSB will train them thoroughly in all aspects of synthetic biology. In addition, we will establish workshops and summer schools in allied synthetic-biology methods to provide training nationally. In this way, BSB will respond directly to the Roadmap recommendation "to build a skilled, energised synthetic biology community". 2. EXCHANGE OF SKILLS AND NEW WAYS OF WORKING Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary subject, combing the life and physical sciences with engineering and modelling to improve design and engineering of biological systems. BSB will provide an exemplar to promote this new way of working. Its structure-with Research Strands, Themes and meetings-will facilitate this, allowing researchers to exchange ideas freely, and to develop new materials and methods together quickly to tackle ambitious and challenging research problems. Specifically, all projects will be undertaken by teams involving: multiple PIs and PDRAs working towards a common goal; both physical and life scientists; input from mathematical and/or molecular modelling; and be overseen by engineering "mentors". 3. EXPLOITATION The above vision will naturally lead to projects diversifying in directions not envisaged from the outset. This will be managed by PIs and researchers to avoid projects becoming diffuse. This approach also brings with it new opportunities, for example leading to IP and consequently possibilities for licensing, spin outs, and entrepreneurship. Whilst we do not anticipate all projects leading to commercialisation, those that do will be supported fully through the Research and Enterprise Division, the Severnside Alliance for Translational Research, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health, and links that we will foster with industry and SMEs. We will also useBSB as a mechanism to develop a synthetic-biology industrial hub to spark translation in a region that has a relatively low number of start-up and SMEs. 4. OUTREACH TO OTHER SYNTHETIC-BIOLOGY SCIENTISTS AND CENTRES We envisage that the above will also benefit researchers and academics outside the BSB developing synthetic-biology programmes; similarly, we are keen to learn best practice from others. In addition to attendance at academic conferences nationally and overseas, BSB will use the following to reach out to other academics and industrialists to exchange these ideas: (i) The PI, Woolfson, and Co-Is are already linked in to other UK synthetic-biology researchers through conferences and the previously funded Synthetic Biology Networks (Woolfson headed one of these). We will use these as a basis for cementing old links and fostering new ones. (ii) Bristol is a partner in the recently funded, Imperial-led IKC in Synthetic Biology (SynbiCITE). This will be particularly useful for seeking out and developing industrial and SME partners for exploiting and translating BSB research findings. (iii) Bristol is an equal partner with Oxford and Warwick in a CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) bid submitted to EPSRC. If funded, this will facilitate links between academics, the exchange of ideas and people, and the development of joint projects with the two other institutes. (iv) Finally, the BSB Annual Symposium will provide a hub for activity in synthetic biology in the South West. 5. GENERAL OUTREACH AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT Through the Synthetic Components Network and the Centre for Public Engagement, Bristol has been exemplary in public engagement in synthetic biology: it has hosted or contributed to science cafes, public lectures, live webcasts, the Public Dialogue, and the training of early career scientists in this area. It will build these activities through 6-monthly public dialogue events, with partners such as Explore@Bristol and ThinkTank.
Committee Research Committee D (Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology)
Research TopicsSynthetic Biology
Research PriorityX – Research Priority information not available
Research Initiative Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRC) [2013-2014]
Funding SchemeX – not Funded via a specific Funding Scheme
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