School of Computing


SynbiCITE - an Imperial College led Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a new and exciting research field that brings together biological scientists and engineers with the aim of developing new ways to build and alter biological systems and cells. Biological cells can perform a vast array of activities driven by instructions, which are encoded by DNA. This DNA makes up the cells genome, which act as a blueprint for different types of cells and is composed of four complementary chemical building blocks called nucleotides (G, C, A and T) linked together in a sequence. The beauty of DNA is that these building blocks pair up specifically (G-C and A-T) thus the DNA template can be easily copied and replicated. The instructions encoded in DNA are translated specifically into an array of large molecules called proteins which act as the engines of the cell performing all the necessary functions for cells to live divide and grow e.g. the conversion of food sources like sugar into energy. Over the last 20 years advances in our ability to 'read' DNA has resulted in the complete genome sequences of a variety of living organisms including humans. These sequences encode the basic instruction parts for that specific organism. More recent advances in the chemical synthesis of DNA, has resulted in our increasing ability to 'write' DNA. Synthetic biology therefore aims to provide an engineering framework that allows researchers to design and write DNA tailored to specific applications such that these new synthetic DNA sequences can be placed in cells to perform specific human defined functions. One overarching aim at present is to develop a series of foundational techniques in synthetic biology such as assembling complex DNA components, characterising the instruction parts in detail and computer modelling of more complex DNA designs such that these can be applied to different applications. One overarching concept for synthetic biology is the development of standard DNA components that can used in an engineering 'design, build and test' cycle to create new biological systems and cells that display defined and predictable functions.Many researchers, policy makes and national governments anticipate that synthetic biology will provide a range of benefits to society in different industrial sectors including human health; agriculture and food production; environmental protection and remediation; bioenergy and chemical. To accelerate the translation of synthetic biology technology to new applications we propose to establish a national UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre in synthetic biology with three main objectives:(1) To act as an industrial translation engine which translates university and industry based research in synthetic biology into industrial process and products(2) To be an effective vehicle for the support of small to medium sized UK companies including Start-ups in synthetic biology(3) To actively engage in open dialogue with the public and other stakeholders focusing on the risks and benefits of synthetic biology technologiesThe IKC aims to place the UK as one of the World's leaders in translating academic synthetic biology research into new products and process but under the framework of 'Responsible Innovation' where the public worth and potential risks of specific applications are considered before such applications are implemented or even reach the market. Such an approach will establish new sustainable synthetic biology industries in the UK, allow other non-UK companies to invest in the UK and develop a skilled workforce in synthetic biology all of which will ultimately lead to new economic growth.