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Synthetic biology in the real world: Case studies

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Sentinel bacterial cells for homeostatic regulation of extra-cellular concentrations

By Caroline Channing

A project led by scientists from Imperial College London (Dr Guy-Bart Stan and Dr Karen Polizzi), in collaboration with responsible research and innovation researchers at King’s College London (Dr Claire Marris) is currently engineering bacterial cells that can sense extra-cellular target molecules and, in response, take action to automatically maintain the concentration of these molecules around a desired set point.

The system is based on the in vivo implementation of an integral feedback mechanism with interchangeable sensing and production parts that can be easily modified to sense and automatically respond to different molecules. In collaboration with partners across various industries, they are exploring the use of this cell-based homeostatic regulation system for various applications, e.g. controllable cell-based therapies for the treatment of metabolic disorders, and bioreactor scale-up solutions where engineered sentinel cells could be used to monitor optimal growth conditions in bioreactors and automatically correct deviations from these.

In collaboration with researchers at King’s College London, the broader societal, economic and regulatory implications of this research are being explored, in particular in the context of its use for the development of controlled cell-based therapies. To this end, researchers at Imperial and King’s are conducting a set of key interviews and organising an international workshop gathering key stakeholders, i.e. academic world-leaders, industry and start-up CEOs, UK and US regulators, clinicians, patient groups, and social scientists. The key findings of these interviews and of the workshop will be used to further inform future regulations and anticipatory governance pertaining to synthetic biology research for cell-based therapies.

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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