Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Agriculture and the Environment

The world population could increase by 2.3 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050 and we will need to produce at least 50% more food to address their needs. Yet climate change, the spread of pests, a growing resistance to agrochemicals, along with loss of cultivatable land could cut yields by as much as 25%. We need ways to better predict, model and improve yield so we can grow more with less – less land, water and agrochemicals.


Systems biology can play a key role to create models of plant systems that can be used to generate predictive models of plant growth under variable conditions. Synthetic biology offers the platform with which we can apply this understanding to engineer useful traits in plants to give improved nutrition, climate-resistance and yield or to make them a source of high-value chemicals.



Case Studies

• Professor Andrew Millar FRS and colleagues have developed the first model of biomass potential in Arabidopsis, which could underpin the creation of climate-proof crops. The model successfully links plan genome sequence to molecules and finally to whole plant physiology and growth.
• Chancellor’s Fellow Alistair McCormick is interested in the carbon fixing process of photosynthesis in plants and algae, the efficiency of which is a major determinant of crop yield. Alistair is applying synthetic biology based approaches to re-engineer the process to increase yield and resistance to stressors such as heat and drought.
• Professor Susan Rosser is transferring the metabolic pathways that produce high value compounds in plants (specifically terpenes) to yeast, which is a cheaper and more readily scalable production system. This strategy can be applied to a variety of products (e.g. flavours and fragrances) that can be costly to harvest from native plants and can risk the sustainability of many natural species.

What we can offer

  • Development of next generation crop and ecosystem models;
  • Multi-scale modelling of plants from lab to field and across different climates;
  • Plant stem cell culture for producing speciality chemicals;
  • Expertise in plant metabolic pathway engineering to increase yields of high-value chemicals;
  • Access to a range of specialist facilities including controlled growth environments, tissue culture and biocontainment.








SynthSys is a key partner in Edinburgh Plant Science, a community of plant and soil experts across Edinburgh.