Synthetic biology has arrived

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Published on: May 20, 2013

GARNet’s An Introduction to Opportunities in Plant Synthetic Biology conference couldn’t have come at a better time – it feels like synthetic biology has officially arrived. Over the last week or so, some long-anticipated synbio news was announced.

First of all, there are the two synbio funding opportunities from BBSRC and other funders:

  • BBSRC and EPSRC announced a call for proposals for multidisciplinary research centres in synthetic biology. At the moment they want interested groups to express their interest, and on 6th June the call will officially be launched at an information workshop. The final deadline for applications is 18 July 2013. The research centres will focus on strategic areas that could include life science technologies, agriculture and food, and environment.
  • The synthetic biology ERA-NET, ERASynBio, launched a call for transnational synthetic biology research projects on Monday. Thirteen European funding agencies, including BBSRC, expect to invest €15.5M.  The submission period ends on 26th August. Proposals have to be able to demonstrate an interface between biology and chemistry, informatics, mathematics, physics, or engineering, and may originate from metabolic engineering, bionanoscience, minimal genomes, or other sub-fields of science.

One of the important aspects of synthetic biology is the potential for application and commercial impact, so it’s important to think about synthetic biology products in the context of public opinion and current markets. The BBSRC and EPSRC started a synthetic biology dialogue in 2010, and have just released a report describing the impact it has. If you’re interested in the ethics and communication of synthetic biology, see what RCUK have been doing in this area in the report: 

While it received less fanfare than the multi-national, multi-million pound investments in synthetic biology, the  patenting of TAL-effector technology (for anything except commercial use in plants) by Life Technologies is important news for wet-lab synthetic biologists. For the GARNet community, it means that UK plant scientists can use TALEN technology as easily as using any other molecular biology kit. You can buy the GeneArt Precision TALs kit from the Life Technologies website.

Life Technologies Corporation said in a press release, “The GeneArt® Precision TALs are supplied as Gateway® compatible entry clones encoding a DNA binding protein for a specific customer-submitted sequence fused to a range of effector domains. Custom TALs are typically delivered within two weeks after orders are placed.”

Sebastian Schornack (@dromius), one of the inventors of TALEN technology, will be speaking at An Introduction to Opportunities in Plant Synthetic Biology on Wednesday. Follow his and other talks on Twitter #plantsynbio.

Finally (and it’s not really news), just for geeky kicks take a look at this Kickstarter synbio project for glowing plants. They’ve already reached their initial goal, but you can still support the project to the ‘stretch’ goal to get your very own glowing Arabidopsis thaliana, or other less exciting goodies. There’s a very informative write-up about the project and science on Kickstarter on a blog called Splasho.


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