Minister visits Manchester following £40 million funding announcement

The Business Secretary Vince Cable has visited The University of Manchester’s Institute of Biotechnology to meet scientists working on Synthetic Biology after announcing £40 million of funding for this cutting edge research.

£32 million is being split across three new Synthetic Biology Research Centres in Manchester, Edinburgh and Warwick.

The centres will receive funding over five years to boost national research capacity and to ensure that there is the expertise to nurture this growing industry in the UK.  An additional £8 million has been awarded to research partnerships across the UK to help create the DNA starting blocks required for synthetic biology applications.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and capital investment from UK Government.

The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) will receive £10.3 million to set up the Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM). The Centre will develop new products and methods for drug discovery and production, focussing on new antibiotics, and agricultural chemicals, including herbicides and insecticides, as well as new materials for sustainable manufacturing.

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said: “From materials for advanced manufacturing to developing new antibiotics and better tests for diseases, this new £40 million investment is in one of the most promising areas of modern science.

Professor Nigel Scrutton, Co-Director of SYNBIOCHEM, says the grant is a significant win for Manchester: “Our vision is to harness the power of Synthetic Biology (SynBio) to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the Centre will provide the general tools, technology platforms and SynBio 'know-how' to drive academic discovery and translate new knowledge and processes towards industrial exploitation.”   

“It will see our world class researchers using bacteria to produce chemicals to make everyday products like toothbrushes and credit cards, which are currently made from unsustainable fossil fuels.  Not only will this help improve people’s everyday lives in the future but it will support long-term economic growth.”

Synthetic biology is a new way of doing science that applies engineering principles to biology to make and build new biological parts, devices and systems. It’s being used to make biological ‘factories’ that make useful products like medicines, chemicals and green energy, as well as tools for improving crops. Examples include biofuels and anti-malaria drugs made by microbes like yeast or bacteria. Synthetic biology has been identified by the UK Government as one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which Great Britain can be a world leader.

Co-Director of the SYNBIOCHEM Centre, Professor Nick Turner says: “The MIB enjoys world-leading capabilities in chemicals synthesis and manufacture and is the engine room for driving innovative research at the cutting-edge of biotechnology. SYNBIOCHEM will benefit from the highly multidisciplinary environment and collaborative culture of the MIB. It will also gain from the Institute’s extensive network of industry partners and stakeholders, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Shell and Unilever to deliver SynBio solutions that will prove transformative to the chemicals manufacturing sector.”

Fellow Co-Director, Professor Eriko Takano adds: “Synthetic biology is an emerging science that has the capacity to transform the UK and European industrial landscape and will revolutionise manufacturing processes to deliver renewable and sustainable materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy that will impact significantly on our economic, social and environmental landscape promising a brighter future for all”.

The impact that synthetic biology will have outside of science will be a key area of research for Professor Philip Shapira from the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at the Manchester Business School and team leader of SYNBIOCHEM’s responsible research and innovation group.

He says: “Our group, which teams researchers in innovation and policy, humanities, science and ethics, and sustainable innovation systems, will work as part of SYNBIOCHEM and with companies, nonprofits, government, and the public.”

He continues: “While synthetic biology is expected to underpin many novel processes and products, it also raises societal considerations about ethics, environment, health and safety, the ownership of re-engineered natural organisms, regulation, market acceptability, and effects on existing sectors and workforces. A key goal is to help the Centre identify and address societal concerns in upstream research and development phases, so that innovations can be shaped to ensure responsible approaches and solutions.”

Notes for editors

Images of the Business Secretary touring the laboratories and University of Manchester scientists will be available from the university press office.

The Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals will be co-directed by the three University of Manchester professors: Professor Nigel Scrutton (Director MIB), Professor Nick Turner (Deputy Director MIB, Director of CoEBio3) and Professor Eriko Takano (Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology Research Theme Director, Professor of Synthetic Biology). 

For more information, images and interviews please contact:

Morwenna Grills
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Life Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 2111
Mob: 07920 080278
Email: Morwenna.Grills@manchester.ac.uk