Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Full speed ahead for the UK Bioeconomy

KTN conference brochure

The Centre attended the KTN Chemistry and Industrial Biotechnology (IB) Showcase in York on Sept 20 and 21 representing the Synthetic Biology Research Centres and Facilities across the UK, which now amounts to ~£300 million UK Government investment.

Chemistry and IB are important sectors in the supply chain for a wide variety of products including medicines, materials, low carbon fuels, batteries, personal and household care products and food. Moving from petrochemical to ‘bio’ feedstocks is not only more sustainable but offers an opportunity to design in new properties for existing and future products. The sessions on functional materials, new batteries, personal care and products for healthy ageing showed just how diverse and large the target markets are. Low carbon fuels remain of interest, of course, with some encouraging successes getting biofuels ‘out on the road.’ 

In what was a well-attended meeting, several hundred industrialists, academics, funders and policy makers gathered to discuss success and look to the future. The event, which merged the IB and Chemistry Innovation showcases, showed signs of more ‘joined up thinking’ across industry sectors, suitably timed, perhaps, for the merging of Research Councils and Innovate UK next April.

Synthetic biology benefited from an entire session chaired by Professor Susan Rosser, Director of the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology. A number of the up-and-coming synthetic biology companies in the UK presented including Ingenza, LabGenius, Colorifix (for bacterial dyes), Customem (for designer water purifying polymers) and Cambridge Consultants (doing a big push in synbio). Great to see some of these start-ups beginning to get traction with funders and develop real game-changing products and services.

In the end, though, it’s all about the (bio)economy. Apparently, we are lagging behind Europe where many countries launched strategies for their bioeconomy years ago. However, the leadership groups for chemistry, IB, medicines, synbio and agritech are plotting a joined-up strategy for the UK’s own bioeconomy roadmap, which should be launched sometime soon. Hopefully generous funding will then flow to help us catch up. Perhaps our synbio investments will also accelerate our move towards a more sustainable future.