Foundry of the future gets a boost

In synthetic biology, DNA is 're-coded' by scientists and inserted into a harmless cell, which re-programmes it to perform a specific task, enabling them to build 'parts' for biological devices.  

A synthetic biology 'foundry' for manufacturing biological devices has received a £1.3m funding boost.  

Potential applications include creating energy from waste and developing drugs that are more targeted with fewer side-effects. Synthetic biology has been identified by the UK Government as one of 'Eight Great Technologies' in which Great Britain can be a world leader.

Two of the key challenges in synthetic biology are building biological devices that are more reliable and creating an automated manufacturing process that meets industry requirements. Meeting these challenges could enable scientists to fully realise synthetic biology's potential.

Researchers at Imperial College London are creating a foundry that will enable them to design and manufacture biological devices using a robotic assembly line that works in a similar way to those used in modern industrial processes. One of the unique features of the foundry is that researchers will be able to create accurate, high quality synthetic DNA and use it to control the function of the cell, which would be a major leap forward that would make biological devices function more reliably.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has announced that it is contributing a £1.3m grant to the foundry for computer software that will enable researchers to design and sequence synthetic DNA.

In 2014, a £1-m grant was also committed by a technology company and Imperial. The Foundry was first announced in April 2014 by David Willetts, then the Universities and Science Minister; at that time, Mr Willetts also revealed that the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council would be providing the foundry with a £2m grant.  This brings the total funding to £4.3 m.

The Foundry is part of the National Centre for Industrial Translation of Synthetic Biology (SynbiCITE), which is a pioneering Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) dedicated to promoting the adoption and use of synthetic biology by industry. Currently located in Imperial Incubator, SynbiCITE has amassed a range of industrial partners including Microsoft and GlaxoSmithKline. Imperial will work with these partners in the Foundry to develop new biological devices.

Professor Richard Kitney, Co-Director of the SynbiCITE, says, ''The Foundry represents a major leap forward in the UK for producing biological devices and processes at an industrial standard. It will provide a focal point for academics and industry to work together on a range of new and exciting projects. In one place teams will collaborate together, designing and manufacturing new biological devices, processes and products using state-of-the-art robotic manufacturing processes. Synthetic biology in the UK is coming of age and it will help to deliver the businesses of the future.''

Professor Paul Freemont, Co-Director of the SynbiCITE, adds, ''We are already making great strides in synthetic biology such as the construction of novel biosensors to test for bacterial infections and new chemicals and therapeutic products. The Foundry will accelerate these developments by enabling systematic construction and testing of synthetic biology designs. We are very excited by the opportunities the Foundry now offers.''