Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Parasitology a focus for new collaborations

Centre members braved biblical summer floods on a trip to Aberystwyth to discuss how synthetic biology tools and technologies might shine some light on the remaining challenges in parasitology.

Professor Susan Rosser, Dr Liz Fletcher and Dr Gaynor Campbell were hosted by Professor Karl Hoffmann of the Barrett Centre for Helminth Control (BCHC), a centre of excellence in research into a variety of parasitic worms. Helminth (worm) infections continue to be the cause of some of the most devastating chronic diseases on the plant. However, they are among the most difficult infections to manage because of the complex life cycle of parasitic worms, which makes the development of diagnostics, therapeutic drugs and prophylactic vaccines difficult. The BCHC is driving innovation in this area through new collaborations and partnerships spanning previously untapped disciplines – synthetic biology is just one of them.

The Edinburgh team enjoyed a stimulating day of discussions around parasitology as well as meeting other members of the Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS). They gave a lunchtime seminar to staff and students, which generated much animated discussion around the many possibilities arising from the reduction in costs of DNA and the new cell engineering tools generated using synthetic biology principles.

During the day, the team visited the ‘hatchery’ where the snails that are the natural hosts for several worm infections are grown, and the drug screening unit where Prof Hoffmann has developed a unique phenotyping capacity using living worms. A trip to the sister IBERS campus provided an overview of the impressive robotics and plant imaging in the National Plant Phenomics Centre and the BEACON Centre of Excellence for Biorefining, a £20M investment in scale up of industrial biotech processed for generating high value chemicals from waste. The team also found out more about the University’s plans for an innovation centre that will capture more of the translational food and agriculture science for which the University is renowned.

Many projects were discussed and the team is already planning a return visit to Edinburgh in the near future. Many thanks to Professor Hoffmann and his team for their hospitality.  

Pictures courtesy of Jessica Longworth at the Barrett Centre for Helminth Control (BCHC)