The government is to boost innovation in synthetic biology by investing up to £6.5m to encourage businesses to explore new industrial applications.
Through grants for feasibility studies, the funding aims to demonstrate the feasibility of using synthetic biology in a commercial setting and highlight the opportunities for UK industry created by technological advancements.
Announcing the investment in a speech at the University of East Anglia, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Synthetic biology is a promising area of science with a wide range of possible applications with huge commercial potential.
“This investment will help businesses understand how best to use synthetic biology responsibly to find solutions to major societal issues and deliver future growth and prosperity.”
Synthetic biology is an emerging, multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of engineering, bioscience, chemistry, and information technology. It aims to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, and redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.
The global market for synthetic biology has been estimated at just over $10bn in 2016 (with a compound annual growth rate of 45% between 2011 and 2016) spread across a wide range of product areas.
Synthetic biology has a broad range of potential applications across a variety of industrial sectors, from medicine to energy generation. Whilst its emerging status leads many to propose exciting and radical possibilities, synthetic biology can also provide a significant number of nearer-term commercial opportunities.
Demonstration is a critical step that determines whether a technology will move from the scientifically possible to the technologically real. The grant funding available through this competition will enable businesses to demonstrate the feasibility of applying synthetic biology to real commercial situations.
Projects will identify a commercial opportunity to which synthetic biology can be applied and test the feasibility through a programme of experimentation, aiming to acquire new knowledge in order to develop new products or to significantly improve existing products, processes or services.
The Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology competition for feasibility funding opens on 8 October 2012 and the deadline for registration is 14 November 2012. Applications must then be submitted by 21 November 2012.
The competition is open to UK-based companies of any size and to research organisations. Projects must be business-led and collaborative. Up to 75% public sector funding may be available, and the maximum grant for each project is £375,000. Projects are expected to last between 12 and 18 months.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will also announce today that it will invest almost £5m to help the UK’s world-leading researchers in synthetic biology to establish platform technology in the emerging field.