The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is committing up to £18 million over the next 4 years exploring the potential impact of synthetic biology on the UK’s defence and security capabilities.
The government has identified synthetic biology as a key high-growth emerging technology. Synthetic biology has been described as the design and engineering of biologically based components, novel devices and systems as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems. It has the potential to deliver important new applications and improve existing industrial processes – resulting in economic growth and job creation.
Dstl’s Prof Neil Stansfield says "t is important that Dstl keeps abreast of such emerging technologies, ensuring that our armed forces can benefit from cutting-edge capability. Our programme champions innovation; and works with partners to explore and deliver exciting new technology opportunities for the security and prosperity of the UK."
Dstl is particularly interested in using synthetic biology to produce novel materials which might provide benefits such as enhanced ballistic protection and lightweight armour, or transparent screens and lenses which don’t mist up. It is anticipated that within four years a new material for armour, or a new approach to existing materials at reduced cost, will be identified.
Dstl has been showcasing some of its work within the field of synthetic biology to suppliers at an event in Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire, including improved boron carbide armour and catalysts for fuel cells.
Attending the conference, Prof Lionel Clarke, Co-Chair of the UK’s Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC) said, "Synthetic biology has the potential to generate innovative solutions to significant technological challenges, and in recent years the UK has invested effectively to support operations at its rapidly advancing leading edge. Events like this allow us to better understand the possibilities that are starting to present themselves, to identify opportunities for collaboration and to benefit more fully from its recent and future development."
Prof Tim Dafforn, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said, "This conference is a wonderful example of how government departments are working together with industry and academia, to take full advantage of synthetic biology technologies for the benefit of the UK. I look forward to seeing how work in this rapidly developing field progresses in the coming years."
The next phase of funding will be administered through Dstl’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE). A themed competition looking for synthetic biology approaches to produce novel materials to address defence challenges will be briefed at a CDE Innovation Network event on 10 February 2016, and the projects selected will build upon Dstl’s existing programme.