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£3.3m research facilities for synthetic biology open in Bristol

Professor Tim Gallagher - Dean Faculty of Science, Dr Luke Davis - EPSRC, Dr Ceri Lynn-Adams - BBSRC, Dr Rowan McKibbin - BBSRC, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Judith Squires, Professor Dek Woolfson- Director BrisSynBio and Dr Paul Race - Co-Director BrisSynBio at the opening

(From left to right:) Professor Tim Gallagher, Dean of the Faculty of Science; Dr Luke Davis, EPSRC; Dr Ceri Lynn-Adams, BBSRC; Dr Rowan McKibbin, BBSRC; Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Judith Squires; Professor Dek Woolfson, Director, BrisSynBio and Dr Paul Race, Co-Director BrisSynBio, at the opening

Press release issued: 30 April 2015

New £3.3 million synthetic-biology research facilities at the University of Bristol were officially opened today by representatives from the UK research councils and the University. The research carried out there will have numerous applications, including helping to speed up drug discovery and development, and improving the yield of wheat.

The new equipment, which includes scientific robots and a dedicated super computer, was unveiled in the Schools of Biochemistry, Chemistry and Physics by Professor Judith Squires (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education) and representatives from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  It will underpin new research activity in Bristol’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre, BrisSynBio, which is a £15 million centre funded by the two research councils for the next five years.

Professor Dek Woolfson (Chemistry and Biochemistry), Director of BrisSynBio, said: “This is an exciting day for us at the Universities of Bristol and the West of England.  It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work over the past two years that brought together scientists and administrators with the vision and determination to deliver an internationally leading research centre for synthetic biology.  Today marks the official start of activity in this Centre.”

The new equipment includes scientific robots, which will help prepare and analyse chemical and biochemical samples rapidly, efficiently and in high throughput; a state-of-the-art instrument for biological nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which will facilitate detailed interrogation of complex, biologically active molecules; and a dedicated super computer, BlueGem, which will allow massive calculations of the actions of drug molecules, complex assemblies of proteins, and even models of whole cells.

As Dr Paul Race (Biochemistry), Co-Director of BrisSynBio, explained: “The new equipment and computers will allow us to do many more experiments in parallel than have been possible previously.  For example, rather than making and analysing one potential drug molecule at a time, we could make and test 100s or even 1000s at the same time and, so, speed up drug discovery and development processes.”

Initially, the new facilities will support ten cutting-edge research projects within BrisSynBio, which currently employs 30 post-doctoral research staff and technicians, who work across more than 20 research groups throughout the Universities in Schools as diverse as Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering Mathematics, Mathematics and Social Sciences.

With these new facilities BrisSynBio will tackle research problems such as introducing enzymes that make antibiotics into bacteria; assembling proteins to make vaccines targeting dengue fever; and improving the yield of wheat.  These are all example of synthetic biology, which is a new field that attempts to improve our abilities to engineer biology for useful purposes.

Because of this strategic importance, BrisSynBio is actively working with small and large biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and it also engages regularly with the public, regulators and government.

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