BBSRC Networks

The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Councils (BBSRC) is funding Networks to facilitate multidisciplinary work and development of a ‘common language’ between bioscience and engineering research groups. Some Networks are addressing generic approaches, focusing on multidisciplinarity and the development of basic ‘tool kits’. Others are exploring specific technical challenges and specific potential applications.

Microbial Applications to Tissue Engineering: An Exemplar of Synthetic Biology
Leader: Professor Phillip Wright (Sheffield)

This Network is exploring a specific scientific challenge – the production of the cellular ‘glue’ that enables cells to stick to each other. It will examine the possibilities for reproducing and modifying the processes of ‘glue’ synthesis so that they can be scaled-up for use in tissue engineering, for example to make human skin for transplants.

Synthetic Components Network: Towards Synthetic Biology from the Bottom Up
Leader: Professor Derek Woolfson (Bristol)

The Synthetic Components Network is a Bristol-led consortium involving the Universities of Durham, Leeds, Oxford, Sheffield and Sussex, together with NIMR London and Unilever. Its aims are: to consider ‘bottom-up’ approaches to assemble systems from their component parts – producing biomolecular toolkits based on natural components and processes will be a key part; to help develop and define this biomoleculardesign approach; and to consider specific and broader ethical, legal and social issues with ethicists and the public.

Standards for the Design and Engineering of Modular Biological Devices
Leader: Dr Alistair Elfick (Edinburgh)

This Network brings together a group of researchers who will meet in the UK and in the USA with invited experts in the field to address standardisation issues around parts-based Synthetic Biology. A particular aim is to produce resources, such as validated protocols, for use by synthetic biologists.

A Synthetic Biology Network for Modelling and Programming Cell-Chell Interactions
Leader: Dr Natalio Krasnogor (Nottingham)

This Network focuses on the technical goal of achieving programmable interactions between biological and artificial cells. This will be important in enabling links to be made of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches to Synthetic Biology, by either simplifying (top-down approach) biological cells or ‘complexifying’ (bottom-up approach) artificial chemical cells. The Network is also working on incorporating into Synthetic Biology computational modelling techniques arising from systems biology and on improving these modelling tools.

From Robust Synthetic Biological Parts to Whole Systems: Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Challenges
Leader: Professor Antonis Papachristodoulou (Oxford)

This brings together researchers in Synthetic and Systems Biology as well as in systems/control, electrical, chemical and computer engineers, physicists and mathematicians. It addresses both the theoretical
and practical challenges of producing systems that are robust enough to work in a variety of biological
environments, from the level of parts to whole systems.

A Network for Synthetic Plant Products for Industry 
Leader: Professor Robert Edwards (Durham)

This Network aims to develop new technology for redesigning metabolic pathways in plants, so that they produce new and novel synthetic products such as ‘smart materials’.

The UCL Network in Synthetic Biology
Leaders: Professor John Ward and Dr Irilenia Nobeli (UCL, Birkbeck College)

Proteins are the main workhorses of biological systems. This Network is exploring the design and production of proteins that could act as components in electrical circuits and devices – for example to produce mixed devices
with electrical, optical, magnetic and enzymic functions. An example is the use of proteins to link electronic devices with enzyme reactions or the harvesting of light. The Network will work with UK electronics industries to explore specially designed proteins as renewable, recyclable biological electronic elements to replace precious and rare metals.

Source: BBSRC 2008