EPSRC and BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Engineering Biology

The Engineering Biology Centre for Doctoral Training (EngBioCDT) is one of nine new CDTs at the University of Bristol, which will equip and nurture engineering and science students, thanks to a nationally-leading £57 million funding boost from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and its Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Engineering biology is one of the five critical technologies predicted to deliver prosperity to the UK as highlighted in the Government’s National Vision for Engineering Biology (December 2023). Sitting at the confluence of Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, AI and Data Science, it has the potential to provide innovative solutions to global challenges for sustainable food, materials and chemicals, combatting climate change, and technologies for improved healthcare, by harnessing biology in new ways and creating biomimetic and engineered living systems capable of surpassing what is possible from single-discipline approaches.

The EngBioCDT, run jointly with the University of Oxford, will provide bespoke cohort-based training with a focus on how engineering biology concepts and technologies can be translated into products with real-world impact. It will include teaching on: modelling and control theory, artificial intelligence and machine learning, gene circuit design, protein design and engineering, and tissue engineering.

The EngBioCDT will train 68 students over five cohorts between 2024 and 2032 in collaboration with over 20 partners including industry, startups, innovation specialists, and national institutes.

The Director of the EngBioCDT, Dr Lucia Marucci, said: “I am so excited to start directing our new Engineering Biology Centre for Doctoral Training in partnership with the University of Oxford, and cannot wait to welcome our new students in September. Many thanks to the EPSRC and BBSRC for funding our programme.”

At Bristol, the CDT will be managed also by Prof Imre Berger, Dr Tom Gorochowski (Deputy Director), Prof Jen McManus and Prof Dek Woolfson.

Bristol hosts Swiss-British Summit to drive innovation in healthcare and environmental sustainability

The Bristol BioDesign Institute co-hosted the Synthetic & Engineering Biology British-Swiss Summit at Bristol’s M-Shed on 22 May 2024. The inaugural event was devoted to understanding the opportunities presented by engineering biology technologies to drive innovation in healthcare, forging collaborations between Switzerland and the UK with a focus on environmental sustainability.

Ambassador Markus Leitner makes the opening address

The UK and Switzerland are both science superpowers. Collectively, they host ten of Europe’s top 20 research universities. Switzerland has ranked first in global innovation for the past decade and is home to several world-class research laboratories and multinational companies like Novartis. While the UK boasts a world-leading engineering biology community and forward-thinking policy, exemplified by the UK Government’s National Engineering Biology Vision published in December 2023.

Dr Sara Holland (Potter Clarkson), Dr Chrysi Sergaki (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and Prof Imre Berger (University of Bristol) discuss commercialising research

Memorandum of Understanding signed in November 2022 between the UK and Switzerland builds on a longstanding history of collaboration between the two countries, with detailed aspirations to encourage future cooperation in ‘deep science’ and ‘deep tech’ areas such as engineering biology.

The Summit, organised in partnership with the Swiss Business Hub UK & Ireland, the BioIndustry Association and Lucideon, aimed to bring together academic thought leaders and representatives from the life science and pharmaceutical industries. These included key Government officials, including members of the UK Government’s newly appointed Engineering Biology Steering Committee regulators, specialist start-up incubators such as Science Creates (Bristol) and BaseLaunch (Basel), and focused investment firms to identify bilateral opportunities for commercialisation through innovation, and policy and diplomacy in science and innovation.

His Excellency Markus Leitner, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United Kingdom said: “The United Kingdom and Switzerland are uniquely placed to work together on this frontier of scientific discovery and technological innovation.

“Bringing together scientists, industry leaders and start-up entrepreneurs from both countries will foster the exchange of ideas, forge new partnerships, and catalyse new initiatives that will shape the future of synthetic and engineering biology.”

Anike Te chairs debate on cell engineering

The Summit took a deep dive into future perspectives in cell engineering, bioprocessing and scale up, AI-driven solutions in synthetic and engineering biology, and accelerating the translation of fundamental research to commercial uptake.

Anike Te, Aegis Professor of Engineering Biology at the University of Bristol and Chief Strategy Officer at Lucideon, added: “Innovation is essential for solving the global challenges we face today. Engineering biology has the potential to provide many of these solutions. The UK and Switzerland are important countries for innovation and it is inspiring to see more collaboration in synthetic and engineering biology.”

Tay Salimullah during his opening keynote address

Inspiring keynote talks were presented by Tay Salimullah (right), VP, Head US & Global Commercial, Value & Access, and Member of the Executive Committee at Novartis Gene Therapies and Dr Harry Destecroix, founder of Science Creates and co-founder of Ziylo, the hugely successful University of Bristol spin-out company.

Spotlight pitches from UK and Swiss engineering biology start-ups highlighted some of the most recent innovations entering the market.

(All images: First Avenue Photography)

(The news story was first published by University of Bristol)

BBI gives evidence to the Lords Science & Technology Committee

BBI Co-Director Dr Lucia Marucci gave evidence to the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee as part of their inquiry into engineering biology.

Lucia, Director of the EngBioCDT, spoke alongside Prof Tom Ellis (Imperial), following evidence from Prof Susan Rosser (Edinburgh), Prof Paul Freemont (Imperial) and Dr Carolina Grandellis (Earlham Institute). Evidence has also been given by Will Milligan, CEO of Bristol-based start up Extracellular.

The committee discussed timely opportunities presented by the confluence of advances in AI and modelling with bionics, some of the regulatory barriers to engineering biology innovations, and the scale up challenges faced by the UK’s engineering biology start ups.

The BBI and Policy Bristol will be submitting evidence to the Committee’s open call for evidence.

UK engineering biology delegation visits Japan 

Ross Anderson (Professor of Biochemistry, University of Bristol) travelled to Japan as part of a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology delegation that met with a range of Japanese Engineering Biology stakeholders (academics, startups/SMEs, industry, funders, policymakers) to promote closer cooperation between the two countries.

He participated in a RRI workshop, and a UTokyo-hosted panel discussions on EngBio capacity and training, visited the labs of Professor Akihiko Kondo, and Professor Kouhei Tsumoto, and had meetings with the Japan Bioindustry Association, and NEDO.

Engineering Biology Mission Award success for BBI researchers

Two teams from the Bristol BioDesign Institute have been awarded funding from the UKRI – BBSRC Engineering Biology Technology Mission Fund call:

CYBER: Cyanobacteria Engineering for Restoring Environments (Principal Investigator: Dr Thomas Gorochowski)
CYBER aims to develop the foundational multidisciplinary tools needed to de-risk environmentally focused engineering biology and ultimately support its future deployment into real-world ecosystems. It brings together researchers from the Universities of Bristol (lead), Newcastle and Edinburgh, plus the National Measurements Laboratory (NML), NIST, Basecamp, Cultivarium, Bactobio, and Gitlife to improve the trustworthiness of engineered biology for environmental applications.

Haemotoxic and cytotoxic snake venom metalloproteinases – production, enzymatic specificity, snakebite treatment, and biomedical use (Principal Investigator: Prof Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel)
The team will establish robust production of snake venom metalloproteinase (SVMPs) toxins ready for use to develop next generation toxin-specific therapies for tackling snakebite envenoming. SVMPs also exhibit functional specificities desirable for biomedical purposes, as several are used as the basis for anti-platelet drugs or standards for the clinical diagnosis of bleeding disorders. The team will use recombinant, native and engineered toxins to identify new platelet inhibitors that block specific platelet surface receptors that are known drug targets. The project team includes ADDovenom colleagues Professor Nick Casewell (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine) as Co-I, and Johara Stringari (University of Bristol) as Researcher Co-I.

Applications open for Engineering Biology CDT

Deadline: 19 April 2024


Are you interested in how synthetic biology concepts and technologies can be translated into real-world impact?

Applications are now open for PhDs in Engineering Biology, as part of the EPSRC BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Engineering Biology (EngBioCDT), run jointly by the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford. It will provide bespoke cohort-based training with a focus on how synthetic biology concepts and technologies can be translated into products with real-world impact.

Society faces major global challenges including a need for sustainable food, materials and chemicals, solutions to combat climate change, and innovative technologies for improved healthcare. Engineering Biology (EngBio) is an emerging field at the confluence of the Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, AI and Data Science. It has the potential to provide innovative solutions to these challenges by harnessing biology in new ways and creating biomimetic and engineered living systems capable of surpassing what is possible from single-discipline approaches.

After training in the fundamentals of mathematics, biology, engineering and computing, and undertaking team-based problem-solving projects, you will complete two short research projects, one of which will develop into your substantive PhD project. Throughout the course, you will undertake bespoke training in innovation and commercialisation, responsible innovation, EDI and bioethics, and career development.

Each year, a summer school will take place in June/July which will include talks from engineering biology leaders, student pitches from innovation in engineering biology projects, and outreach projects.

Through close links with our industrial partners, and activities such as industrial placements, mentorship and translational training, the CDT will empower students to deliver EngBio solutions to real-world applications through skills and knowledge training.

Further info for applicants:

SynBioBeta reports on ‘Open-endedness in synthetic biology’ paper

A paper co-authored by BBI Co-Director Thomas Gorochowski has been featured in a news story on the SynBioBeta website.

Breaking the Mold: Embracing Uncertainty for Enhanced Bio-Innovation reports on Michiel Stock and Thomas Gorochowski’s article: Open-endedness in synthetic biology: A route to continual innovation for biological design, which has been published in Science Advances.

Thomas tells SynBioBeta: “When we try to design a complex biological process, it’s often tempting to just tweak something that partially works rather than take the risk of trying something completely new. In this work, we highlight that in these situations, the best solutions often come from unexpected directions because we don’t always fully understand how everything works. With biology, there are lots of unknowns, and so we need a vast and diverse toolkit of building blocks to ensure we have the best chance of finding the solution we need.”

  • Open-endedness in synthetic biology: a route to continual innovation for biological design
    Michiel Stock & Thomas E. Gorochowski
    Science Advances (2024), Vol 10, Issue 3, eadi3621

BBI features in UK Government’s National Vision for Engineering Biology

The Bristol BioDesign Institute has contributed to, and is featured in, the UK Government’s National Vision for Engineering Biology, published on 5 December 2023.

The document outlines the government’s vision for “a broad, rich engineering biology ecosystem that can safely develop and commercialise the many opportunities to come from the technology.”

In a case study in the ‘World-leading R&D’ section (page 21), Bristol is described as a “thriving ecosystem for engineering biology” with a “booming” local bioeconomy. Both the BBI and the Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology are mentioned in this section, alongside BrisSynBio, eight University of Bristol spinouts, and Science Creates.

SBUK 2023 takes place in Bristol

Over 300 people from 45 institutions in 11 countries attended the Synthetic Biology 2023 conference in Bristol on 6-7 November, organised by the Biochemical Society and the Bristol BioDesign Institute.

We would like to thank all the invited speakers (Prof Patrick CaiProf Tanja KortemmeProf Petra SchwilleProf Andreas PlückthunProf Susan RosserProf Seraphine WegnerProf Julius LucksDr David RiglarDr Nicole Wheeler and Dr Gitta Neufang), the oral and poster presenters, the session chairs, the team from the Biochemical Society, and everyone else who attended for their help in making the event a great success.

Themes covered at the conference included biomolecular design and engineering; cell and system-level design; synthetic and minimal cells; data-centric bioengineering, and applications across industry.

Dek Woolfson presents Stephen Wallace with the Colworth Medal.Congratulations to Prof Stephen Wallace, who was awarded the prestigious Colworth Medal and gave a talk on the development of ‘plastic-eating E. coli that can efficiently turn polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste into adipic acid, which is used to make nylon materials, drugs and fragrances’.

Further congratulations to the oral and poster prize recipients:

Biosciences and AI merge with launch of new UKRI Network

Bringing artificial intelligence (AI) and biosciences together to tackle major societal challenges is the aim of a new five-year £1.6m project involving the University of Bristol and several other UK universities.

The Artificial Intelligence in the Biosciences (AIBIO-UK) network will aim to connect leading AI and core bioscience researchers to unravel biological fundamentals. The ultimate aim of this network is to enhance AI capabilities within the biosciences and be the central point for resources at the interface between AI and the biosciences, placing a strong emphasis on responsible research and innovation and the ethics of AI.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, AIBIO-UK will provide bio-scientists with practical skills and knowledge in AI to benefit their research, while equipping AI researchers with knowledge of the main challenges facing the biosciences. AIBIO-UK will develop new interdisciplinary ways of working via pilot project funding, and develop Grand Challenges of AI in bioscience.

It aims to:

  • Create a stronger community profile for AI in the biosciences in the UK
  • Facilitate networking, knowledge exchange and the formation of new collaborations
  • Support greater awareness, education and training relating to AI within the bioscience community

Dr Lucia Marucci from the School of Engineering Mathematics and Technology, and Co-Director of the Bristol BioDesign Institute, is leading Bristol’s contribution to this project. She said: “AI systems are used in wide-ranging applications, from self-driving cars to language translation.

“Recent AI applications to the biosciences have been promising but efforts have been sparse and uncoordinated, and limited to groups or companies with specific expertise.

“The network vision is to bring together AI and core bioscience researchers to address huge societal challenges we face.”

The network, led by the University of Nottingham, includes University of Bristol, Quadram Institute Bioscience, the University of Manchester, University of Aberdeen, King’s College London and Aberystwyth University.

The management team is planning a series of community-created events over the next five years to help raise awareness across the UK biosciences community of exciting, cutting-edge AI development, the opportunities it presents for research collaboration, as well as its challenges.

 A launch event will be held on 11 January next year in Birmingham.

(This news story was originally published by the University of Bristol)