Collaboration within Synthetic Biology was led by UEA’s Professor Tamas Dalmay, with Professor Christine Raines from Essex and Professor Mark Smales from Kent.
This fast-moving field combines advances in biological understanding with engineering principles to design and construct new biological devices or systems for a range of uses, from new materials and biofuels to medical treatments. Advances within the field are happening at increasing speed and with lower costs than ever before.
The rational design or re-design of living systems using engineering principles to construct new or adapted phenotypes that do not normally exist in nature, has become a key priority area in the life sciences. With the advent of affordable and rapid genomics, synthetic biology provides huge, novel and diverse opportunities to tackle many of the grand societal challenges of today, including the RCUK strategic priorities of food security, bioenergy, industrial biotechnology, and healthy ageing, within the context of environmental and social considerations.
Synthetic Biology at UEA
The Faculty of Science at UEA has a diverse research portfolio in synthetic biology, including:
- Electron transport in mineral respiring bacteria
- Interactions between outer membrane cytochromes and mineral surfaces
- DNA repair pathways of model organisms
- The interplay between DNA damage, DNA repair and ageing
- Biotechnology for solar-microbial fuel generation
- Application of protein film voltammetry
- Enzymology of the nitrogen cycle
- Regulation and biochemistry of respiratory and assimilatory nitrate-utilisation
- Metal-protein recognition and the mechanisms of metal homeostasis in bacteria
- Molecular mechanisms of bacterial signal transduction
- The role of nitric oxide and oxygen as signalling molecules during pathogenesis
- Microbial catabolism of DMSP generating the climatically influential gas dimethyl sulphide
- Nitric oxide-sensing iron-sulfur cluster transcriptional regulators
- Copper trafficking proteins of Bacillus subtilis
- Bacterial iron-dependent transcriptional regulators
- Isolation of novel bioactive secondary metabolites (antibiotics) from ant-associated actinomycetes
- Analysis of conserved signalling pathways in Actinobacteria
- Post-transcriptional regulation of eukaryotic gene expression
- Calcium signalling in plants
Synthetic Biology at Essex
Research undertaken at Essex complemented existing topics of investigation in the Environmental and Plant Biosciences (EPB) group. Areas of interest included:
- Construction of small molecule sensors based on fluorescent proteins
- Re-construction of plant metabolic pathways in yeast, algae and plants for the synthesis of biofuels, bioplastics, diverse natural products (from antimicrobials to carotenoids), and bioremediation
- Development of synthetic transcription factors that respond to environmental or chemical signals
- Development of robust and adaptable genome editing tools for manipulation of plant processes
International engagement is an essential feature of Essex’s activities to ensure our research is of global societal relevance and, as a result, we are involved in extensive collaborations with industry both in the UK and internationally. Our centres, groups and units all contribute to a multidisciplinary approach to biological science.
Synthetic Biology at Kent
The Sciences Faculty at Kent has developing depth and strengths in applied synthetic biology research. Example projects include:
- Those in the Centre for Industrial Biotechnology, which brings together different disciplines to apply synthetic biology approaches to tackle biological problems and challenges. The Centre also runs a taught MSc in Biotechnology and Bioengineering that covers the emergence and application of synthetic biology approaches.
- Two BBSRC Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBB, BioProNET and Metals in Biology) that are run from Kent in collaboration with partners in Manchester and Durham to foster academic and industrial collaborations utilising synthetic biology approaches to addressing current industrial challenges.
- Reconstruction of whole pathways, such as the cobalamin (vitamin B12) pathway in coli
- The reprogramming of mammalian cells using synthetic biology approaches.
- Application of synthetic biology approaches in yeast systems through the Kent Fungal Group
- Investigation of prokaryotic compartmentalisation, metabolic pathway engineering, and synthetic biology.
- Cell-line engineering and manipulation of mRNA translation
- Regulation of gene expression at the translational level
- Understanding and exploiting protein transport systems and pathways for high-value products in microalgae
- The biosynthesis of haem
- Phase variation in E. coli