Scotland is set to create waves among the global biotechnology arena as its Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) announces over £3 million of investment across six game changing synthetic biology projects including greener skincare products, more sustainable plastics and improvements to personalised medicine therapies.
“With the global synthetic biology market estimated to grow by more than 40% by the end of the decade – Ian Archer, Technical Director of IBioIC said – it is no wonder that synthetic biology is high on the agenda of organisations worldwide; we’re proud to be accelerating innovation in the area and of the academic capabilities Scotland can offer the world.”
While the 20th century saw a boom in the rise of petrochemical materials, the global dedication to finding more natural, greener solutions has soared and the appetite for biological solutions is higher than ever before. Because of this, new technologies and processes are critical to extract chemicals and materials from natural matter and organisations from a wide scope of industries are collaborating to move the industrial biotechnology (IB) industry forward.
A particularly forward-thinking area of industrial biotechnology is synthetic biology: the design, engineering and construction of new biological systems which will transform sectors as diverse as materials and healthcare. The synthetic biology market is expected to reach $38.7 billion globally by 2020 (Allied Market Research) and can be held accountable for the invention of leather that has been grown without needing to breed cows; building materials made from mushrooms, yeasts which can generate more alcohol, medical diagnosis kits and personalised medicine.
Earlier this year IBioIC launched a funding call for projects in synthetic biology, which called for companies anywhere in the world to collaborate with Scotland’s outstanding academics in the area of synthetic biology.
Recipients of the funding are: Synpromics with University of Edinburgh to enable better gene therapy; Lucite International with University of St Andrews to increase the sustainability of acrylic glass; Unilever with University of Edinburgh to create ‘greener’ skin cleansers; Ingenza Ltd with University of Glasgow to develop advanced metrology (measurements) for biotechnology; Twist Bioscience with University of Edinburgh to develop tools to engineer yeast strains for fuels and pharmaceuticals; Nissan Chemicals with University of Glasgow for new tools for bio-production of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics
Synthetic biology provides new solutions to major challenges by aiding the manufacture of complex molecules and materials that are currently difficult, expensive or impossible to produce or which are produced by processes which are challenging to the environment. By innovating advanced manufacturing processes, synthetic biology can also help generate more sustainable and affordable materials, chemicals and energy.
IBioIC exists to provide a focal point that connects academic expertise with industrial capabilities in the area – synthetic biology tools being developed by Scottish Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) cross a wide range of organisms such as bacteria, yeast, fungi, plants and animals which could be translated into supporting human health, crop and livestock development.
The recipient projects in detail:
Synpromics with University of Edinburgh – £680,000 to enable gene therapy
In this 24-month project, Scotland based Synpromics will be working with the University of Edinburgh to identify ‘switches’ within tissues for gene therapies such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases; accelerating the future of personalised medicine.
Lucite International with University of St Andrews – £430,000 to increase the sustainability of Plexiglas
Lucite International and its parent company Mitsubishi Rayon are responsible for around 40% of the world’s acrylic glass materials (often referred to as Perspex or Plexiglas). They already have the world’s most environmentally friendly process for manufacturing the monomers, the building blocks of acrylic glass. This 24-month project with University of St Andrews will develop a novel bioprocess to make Plexiglas monomers more sustainable. They aim to make the chemistry even ‘greener’ by engineering the organisms involved to make more efficient use of carbon and reduce CO2 emissions even further.
Unilever with University of Edinburgh for cosmetic products – £450,000 to create ‘greener’ skin cleansers
Multi-national Unilever is a leader in the manufacture of personal hygiene products and will work with University of Edinburgh over 24 months to develop a large scale, green manufacturing process for a new class of cosmetic chemical. Together, they will engineer yeast which can manufacture a range of plant extracts that can, in turn, be used as natural cleansers in skin products.
Ingenza Ltd with University of Glasgow to – £490,000 to develop technology to standardise biotechnology processes
Ingenza has a broad customer base across the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, feed and fuel industries. Working with the University of Glasgow over 18 months they will develop a technology to monitor biotechnology experiments in real time. The technology will enable the challenging task of bioprocess optimisation to be achieved much more efficiently and will benefit all bioprocesses from production of biopharmaceuticals to beer!
Twist Bioscience with University of Edinburgh – £500,000 to engineer yeast strains for fuels and pharmaceuticals
With their expertise in DNA, Twist Bioscience will be collaborating with the Edinburgh University Genome Foundry over two years to generate a set of genetic building blocks for yeast. The project will deliver new commercial tools for the engineering of yeast to produce a variety of chemicals from fuel to pharmaceuticals.
Nissan Chemicals with University of Glasgow – 410,000 to produce bio-pigments for use in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics
Japan-based chemical manufacturing company Nissan Chemicals will work with University of Glasgow over 18 months to engineer bacteria cell ‘factories’ to produce carotenoids. This is the pigment which gives colour to plants such as ripe tomatoes, carrots and autumn leaves. Carotenoids can be used across the production of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics and food chemicals.
The results will be formally announced in the upcoming ninth European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy (EFIB) in Glasgow (October 18th – 20th) to an audience of industry executives committed to a shift towards renewable, biologically-based manufacturing. EFIB is organised by EuropaBio, Europe’s largest and most influential biotechnology industry group and will be supported in Glasgow by Team Scotland, which includes IBioIC, Scottish Enterprise, SECC and Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and partners such as The Knowledge Transfer Network and Innovate UK.