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Synthetic biology in the real world: Case studies

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Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA)

By Caroline Channing

During the Green Revolution nitrogen fertilisers as much as tripled cereal yields in some areas. However, these synthetic fertilisers remain unaffordable in developing countries, for example for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa whose yields are 15% to 20% of their potential.

As part of the ENSA project, Professor Giles Oldroyd’s group at the John Innes Centre is taking a synthetic biology approach to engineer nitrogen-fixation into cereals. Legumes are able to form symbiotic interactions with nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria through formation of root nodules.

Engineering this complex interaction into cereals is highly ambitious and could not be tackled without the tools of synthetic biology. The potential impact on yields in sub-Saharan Africa without reliance on chemical fertilisers is huge. 

UK Strategic Plan for Synthetic Biology 2016

Click on the image above to download the UK Synthetic Biology Strategic Plan 2016

New synthetic biology technologies are starting to offer exciting opportunities across a range of industries including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biofuels and health.

Research Council funding in collaboration with a wide variety of national and international partners across academia and industry, is supporting the long-term growth of UK synthetic biology, development of a highly skilled workforce and an infrastructure to underpin and enable cutting edge research in industry and academia, as well as providing support for synthetic biology start-up companies.

The pervasive potential of synthetic biology is brought to life through a series of case studies ranging from a biosensor toolkit with the ability to treat chronic conditions such as diabetes through to using enzymes from yeast mould to unlock cleaner routes to producing biofuel.

The wide ranging applications of synthetic biology will play an important role in growing the UK's bioeconomy, creating new jobs and ensuring the UK is a world leader in this area.

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