UKI2S Synbio Digest

Synbio Digest features news, views and reports covering the engineering biology industry and recent research.

5th November 2018

Headlines: Budget risks reducing company R&D tax credits whilst increasing govt R&D spend. Blue bugs.

Budget 2018. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced increases to R&D spending and commitment to investing 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027. The Campaign for Science and Engineering notes this will mean an additional £9 Billion per year to meet this target. The BIA raised concerns over the R&D tax credit change that will see the credit loss-making companies can receive restricted to three times the company’s PAYE and NICs liabilities for that year.

Bacterial dye to save water. Dyeing in the fashion industry is an incredibly water-intensive process. Two companies have featured in the news using engineering biology to aid a sustainable fashion industry and circular economy. Faber Futures’ founder Natsai Audrey Chieza has created a water-efficient dyeing process with partners a UCL. The process uses soil bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor to pigment clothes. Similarly, a Stella McCartney dress dyed by Colorifix’s engineered microbes is part of an interactive museum for fashion innovation recently opened in Amsterdam. The crossover between fashion, biodesign and synbio is becoming increasingly active, so watch this space.

Policy & funding: Computing makes biology better but be careful who owns the genes. Evolving funding for engineering biology centres.

Who owns the ocean’s genes? A recent article in the Financial Times (paywall) discusses biotech companies patenting genetic sequences available in public libraries. DNA sequences of organisms on land and up to 200 nautical miles offshore belong to that nation, according to the 2010 Nagoya Protocol. In international waters, the (pre-genetics) 1982 UN Convention on Law of the Sea comes into effect.

Synthace releases whitepaper. Synthace has produced a whitepaper on Computer Aided Biology. Described as “ground-breaking”, the paper lays out how engineering biology tools will improve biological research. The publication comes as Synthace completes its move to White City Place near Imperial College, London’s new White City campus in West London.

SynbiCITE enters a new phase. The UK’s Innovation and Knowledge Centre at SynbiCITE, based in Imperial College, London, has been funded for another five years to support the growing UK bioeconomy. SynbiCITE 2.0 will work even closer with nationwide engineering biology research centres and establish a new investor consortium and industry club.

Science: Press record. Calling your tummy.

CRISPR has yet another application: making a molecular recorder. Researchers from ETH Zurich and University of Basel, Switzerland have used type I-E CRISPR system’s ability to acquire spacers – short nucleic acid segments – as a means of recording transcriptional events that occur within the cell, such as response to RNA viruses or oxidative stress. The authors believe that this ability may lead to better understanding of cell behaviours or pathological states.

Telephone for the microbiome. Researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard have developed a “signal” and “responder” circuit in two strains of E. coli, allowing them to communicate with each other. The authors believe this has applications in medicine where our commensal microbes communicate with each other and us on the state of our health.

Events: Go West (and East).

SynBioBeta 2018 kicked off in California bringing together dozens of synbio companies from around the world. Guest speakers included Emily Leproust, George Church and Steve Wozniak, highlighting the cross-disciplinary nature of the field. You can catch up with these highlights of days one, two and three.

In Boston, USA, the iGEM Competition has just wrapped up. This international synbio competition saw Oxford undergraduates winning Best Therapeutics Project with their probiotic strain to treat inflammatory bowel disease. Cardiff’s undergraduate team won Best Plant Engineering Biology using RNAi to target plant pest aphids. iGEM projects have spawned successful synbio companies, such as CustoMem, based in Imperial College, London. You can see the full results here.