Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Delivering Impact with Industrial Biotech: Conference 2017

marcu standing by his poster

Ambitiously entitled 'Delivering Impact', the third Annual Conference of the Industrial Biotech Innovation Centre (IBioIC) attracted over 400 delegates over two days in late January. It didn't disappoint and the energy felt is testament to both the success of the Innovation Centre and the extent to which Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is firmly on the agenda for industry, academia and public and private investors. SynthSys sponsored an exhibition stand at the conference to further raise the profile of IB-related synthetic biology research in Edinburgh.

There is no pithy definition for industrial biotechnology and no high-profile champion (aka Ellen Macarthur or Brian Cox), a good point raised by one delegate. Nevertheless companies are chasing products and services to deliver to the market. You’ll be familiar with the drivers for the IB market: a growing global population demanding more food, energy and products and in the process creating more waste. IB offers solutions for improved productivity, minimizing waste in the process and even using waste streams as feedstock for new products. There were lots of examples at the conference including using methane as a feedstock for protein for animal feed, high value oils from seaweed, metabolic engineering of yeast to produce high value chemicals, or 'recycling' food waste for energy.

The IBioIC has been helping bring the best of Scotland's research together with our innovative start-ups and major multinationals, to build a community of IB innovators, practitioners, translators, end users and investors to put Scotland on the map for IB. To date the IBioIC has funded a total of 38 projects, trained tens of MSc students and PhD students and established two equipment centres (Rapid Bioprocess Centre and Flexible Downstream Bioprocessing Centre). Recently the BBSRC awarded IBioIC a £2.6M Collaborative Training Partnership, which will fundan additional 27 PhD students over the coming 5 years.

To date, SynthSys and the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology has greatly benefited from IBioIC funding calls with successful awards for industry-led projects such as Susan Rosser’s project with Unilever to accelerate bacterial production of saponins, and Patrick Cai’s yeast metabolic engineering project with DNA supplier Twist Bioscience. The University now has a large community of researchers actively engaged or interested in IB research.

But what is the future for industrial biotechnology with the ever shifting sands of our Brexit, Indyref#2, ‘post-truth’ Trump world? The good news is that it appears to be firmly on the funding agenda. IB and synthetic biology are outlined in the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy ‘Green Paper’ (read here and in recent stakeholder discussions around the Industry Challenge Fund recently announced by Theresa May.

[If you are interested in what was discussed at the consultation meetings read more here

Special congratulations go to Marcus Price for winning a prize for the best PhD poster for his research on Crispr-Cas 9 of Bacillus in the Rosser Lab in collaboration with Ingenza.