Research Council-funded networks in Synthetic Biology

In 2008, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with additional support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, funded the creation of seven multidisciplinary networks in synthetic biology.

These networks, which were funded for three years, successfully brought together bioscientists, engineers, chemists and computer scientists, building on the UK's bioscience and engineering expertise to develop a world-leading synthetic biology research community. Ethical, Legal & Societal Issues (ELSI) was also a component of all the networks in synthetic biology (find out more here)

As an introduction, click here to read an article published in the Times Higher Education in 2008 when the networks were launched. 


Synthetic Components Network: Towards Synthetic Biology from the Bottom Up

The Synthetic Components Network's aims were: to consider ‘bottom-up' approaches to assemble systems from their component parts – producing biomolecular toolkits based on natural components and processes will be a key part; to help develop and define this biomolecular design approach; and to consider specific and broader ethical, legal and social issues with ethicists and the public.


SynBio Standards: Standards for the Design and Engineering of Modular Biological Devices

This Network brought  together a group of researchers who met in the UK and in the USA with invited experts in the field to address standardisation issues around parts-based Synthetic Biology. A particular
aim was to produce resources, such as validated protocols, for use by synthetic biologists.


SynBioNT: A Synthetic Biology Network for Modelling and Programming Cell-Chell Interactions
This Network focuses on the technical goal of achieving programmable interactions between biological and artificial cells. This will be important in enabling links to be made of ‘top-down' and ‘bottom up' approaches to Synthetic Biology, by either simplifying (top-down approach) biological cells or ‘complexifying' (bottom-up approach) artificial chemical cells. The Network is also working on incorporating into Synthetic Biology computational modelling techniques arising from systems biology and on improving these modelling tools.


RoSBNet: From Robust Synthetic Biological Parts to Whole Systems: Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Challenges
This brings together researchers in Synthetic and Systems Biology as well as in systems/control, electrical, chemical and computer engineers, physicists and mathematicians. It addresses both the theoretical and practical challenges of producing systems that are robust enough to work in a variety of biological environments, from the level of parts to whole systems.


SPPI-NET: A Network for Synthetic Plant Products for Industry

This Network aims to develop new technology for redesigning metabolic pathways in plants, so that they produce new and novel synthetic products such as ‘smart materials'.


Synbion Network: UCL Synthetic Biology

Proteins are the main workhorses of biological systems. This Network is exploring the design and production of proteins that could act as components in electrical circuits and devices – for example to
produce mixed devices with electrical, optical, magnetic and enzymic functions. An example is the use of proteins to link electronic devices with enzyme reactions or the harvesting of light. The Network will work with UK electronics industries to explore specially designed proteins as renewable, recyclable biological electronic elements to replace precious and rare metals.


MATEs: Microbial Applications to Tissue Engineering: An Exemplar of Synthetic Biology

This Network is exploring a specific scientific challenge – the production of the cellular ‘glue' that enables cells to stick to each other. It will examine the possibilities for reproducing and modifying the processes of ‘glue' synthesis so that they can be scaled-up for use in tissue engineering, for example to make human skin for transplants.

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