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updated 7:37 AM GMT, Nov 20, 2014
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

Cambridge on board for £10m synthetic biology initiative

Nick Goldman pointing to a vial with some synthetic DNACambridge University is participating in a new £10 million project to carry early synthetic biology research through to an industry ready position in an attempt to establish an international foothold in an exciting new technology sector.

A new Innovation and Knowledge Centre called SynbiCITE will be established at Imperial College London with a further 17 universities and academic institutions also participating, one of which is the University of Cambridge. Thirteen industrial partners will also take part including Microsoft Research and Syngenta, both of which have Cambridge based operations.

Synthetic biology holds the promise of providing a number of benefits to society in areas such as human health, agriculture and food production, environmental protection and bioenergy.

The European Bioinformatics Insitute (EBI) on the outskirts of Cambridge has already demonstrated some of the potential of the discipline by storing a mass of data on a piece of synthetic DNA the size of a speck of dust, which Agilent Technologies, also a partner on SynbiCite, managed to retrieve with 100 per cent accuracy.

Synthetic DNA has several advantages over other common storage mediums: it could last several thousand years, unlike hard disks the method does not require a constant supply of electricity and it far outlasts the best 'no-power' archiving materials such as magnetic tape, which degrade within a decade.

"Synthetic Biology could be the next 'industrial revolution' for the UK, where tiny devices manufactured from cells are used by us to improve many facets of our lives," said Professor Richard Kitney, co-academic of SynbiCITE from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial. "From producing new, more sustainable fuels to developing devices that can monitor or improve our health, the applications in this field are limitless."