Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Bioengineering


Synthetic Biology aims to design and manufacture biologically-based devices and systems that do not already exist in the natural world, including the re-design and fabrication of existing biological systems. The case for investment in Synthetic Biology has been made in at least two major reports (i) the EU Report 2003, and (ii), more recently, Systems Biology: A Vision for Engineering and Medicine - by the Academy of Medical Sciences and The Royal Academy of Engineering. The strategic benefit of the area to the UK is described in the Government's Science and Innovation Investment Framework Document 2004 -2014. The aim is to establish a new and innovative research centre within the Institute of Systems and Synthetic Biology (IoSSB) called the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation. This is directly in line with the Imperial College's strategic objectives of establishing a strong research base in Synthetic Biology. We believe that this will produce a step change in the UK's ability to generate sufficient IP in the area and be of significant benefit to the UK economy, in terms of licensing and spinout companies. This will principally be done through Imperial Innovations Group plc and the College's Business Development Unit. The Centre is to be housed in contiguous space. This will allow us to create a distinct identity which will act as a focus for Synthetic Biology research and training, both in the College and externally. The core of the application is the appointment of 3 new lecturers (2 in Engineering and 1 in Life Sciences). The new lecturers will be physically located in a single area, but with easy access to other members of staff working within the IoSSB and associated departments (all of the associated departments are on the South Kensington Campus). We will address societal and ethical issues surrounding Synthetic Biology. To this end, we have formed a partnership with the BIOS group at the LSE, led by Professor Nikolas Rose. In addition, we intend to work with Professor Robert Winston (who is Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College) to address issues of public engagement and trust and to engage with the central concerns of policy and regulation in this novel and rapidly developing area. We plan to organise regular meetings and workshops with both national and international collaborators. A principal aim of these meetings will be the definition of Grand Challenges in the field, including ethical and societal issues. Another aim is to actively nucleate Synthetic Biology research activities in the UK. We intend to establish clusters of research activity involving multiple institutions to tackle these Grand Challenges. We anticipate exchange visits for staff and students, as well as short placements. A Visiting Professor Scheme will be established in which a different internationally outstanding scholar will be funded for a period each year (typically 1-2 months) to visit the new centre to give seminars and a series of lectures that will be open to public and UK academic community. The meetings/workshops will be advertised widely in the UK academic community, including through the BBSRC networks in Synthetic Biology. We see the two annual meetings/workshops as a key element in creating research capacity in the UK where the Centre will actively promote and share expertise in Synthetic Biology with the wider UK community. Each workshop/meeting will also include a session devoted to societal, ethical and public engagement issues organised by our BIOS partners. In terms of sustainability, the aim is to have a steady flow of IP which is transferred via licensing, spinout companies and collaborative research (eg with industry). We anticipate that by 2014 there will be a rapidly developing industrial sector in Synthetic Biology in the UK/EU and internationally with which the Centre will be interacting. This is likely to include healthcare, renewable energy, materials, industrial processes and food technology.


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Description This report relates to the establishment and operation of the Centre for synthetic biology and innovation (CSynBI) during the period of the EPSRC Science and Innovation Award 2009 - 2014 and, therefore, is described in the past tense. It is, however, important to note that the Centre has continued to grow since the end of the grant and is now part of the Imperial College Synthetic Biology Hub ( https://www.imperial.ac.uk/synthetic-biology ). This comprises the basic research centre (now called IC-CSynB) and the U.K.'s National Industrial Translation Centre for Synthetic Biology (SynbiCITE www.synbicite.com , which also includes the London DNA Foundry). Because IC-CSynB is the current extension of CSynBI, it is described in outline in the final paragraph of this report.

Under the EPSRC Science and Innovation Award, the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI) was the academic arm of the Synthetic Biology hub and is led by Professors Richard Kitney and Paul Freemont. It specialised in the research and development of foundational tools for synthetic biology and the use of these tools in new applications to solve problems - for example in industry and healthcare. CSynBI was committed to responsible research and innovation and this, therefore, comprised of scientists and engineers at Imperial College London and societal and ethical researchers from the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King's College London.
The scientific research goals of CSynBI were to establish an engineering framework for the design and optimisation of new biological parts, devices and systems, and, in tandem, to apply synthetic biology to develop a wide range of novel biotechnologies. Led by Professor Nik Rose from Kings College London, CSynBI was also addressing issues of public engagement and trust, as well as engaging with the central concerns of policy and regulation in this novel and rapidly developing area. A programme of research, training, development and dissemination had, through upstream involvement from the very outset of CSynBI, enhanced capabilities to understand the ways that developments in synthetic biology impact and shape the world around us and continues to facilitate the development of informed dialogue and an appropriate regulatory and policy regime. CSynBI also worked with key social scientists from the University of Edinburgh on responsible research and innovation.
Academics in CSynBI were the first to design and implement synthetic biology courses in the UK (and possibly in Europe).
Exploitation Route During the period of the Science and Innovation Award, CSynBI comprised 10 PIs and around another 60 researchers - consisting of Postdoctoral Fellows and PhD students - from the Life Sciences, Engineering and the Physical Sciences departments. They were supported by the Science and Innovation Award and a range of other grants made possible by the existence of CSynBI. Also, within Imperial there were around another 40 scientists and engineers working on projects associated with CSynBI demonstrating its collaborative reach. In addition, the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, at King's College London was, from the very start of CSynBI embedded in the Centre to address responsible innovation issues (i.e. societal, ethical and environmental considerations relating to synthetic biology). Indeed, Professor Nik Rose worked closely with Professors Freemont and Kitney from since 2008 to develop synthetic biology at Imperial College London.

The Centre's collaborative reach was international and it had strong links in the United States, including Stanford University and UC Berkeley - as well as was a key member of European grants. It had significant ongoing collaboration with NTU and NUS in Singapore.
Many international observers considered CSynBI to be one of the leading international centres for research in synthetic biology (this is still the case today as part of the Imperial College Synthetic Biology Hub), indeed its international influence was considerable. CSynBI was proud to welcome international delegations from countries such as France, China and Singapore (including the Singaporean Economic Development Board) and assist them in their synthetic biology policy development.

Members of the Centre (principally Professors Kitney and Freemont) has been heavily involved in the development of synthetic biology strategy for the UK. In 2008 Professor Kitney chaired a Royal Academy of Engineering Inquiry into synthetic biology, which was published in May 2009. Professor Freemont was also a key member of the inquiry. The report of the inquiry has been, and remains, influential in the development of synthetic biology strategy in many countries. In the autumn of 2011 the RT Hon David Willetts MP, the then Minister of State for Universities and Research, organised a roundtable discussion at the UK Government's Department of Business Innovation and Skills to which both Kitney and Freemont were invited. One of the results of the roundtable discussion was the establishment of a working group to develop a Roadmap for Synthetic Biology for the UK - this was published in July 2012. Both Kitney and Freemont made significant contributions to both the development of the strategy and the writing of the Roadmap. Again, this document had been influential internationally.

In the autumn of 2011 CSynBI organised a two-day workshop at Imperial College for the groups involved in synthetic biology at the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Kings College London and Newcastle. The aim was to broaden activities to encompass the additional strengths of these universities in the area of synthetic biology. The plan was to establish a consortium of research activity. Because the workshop was held in the Flowers Building at Imperial, the consortium was called the Flowers Consortium and was established by a written agreement between the groups. In the spring of 2012 the Flowers Consortium was awarded a significant grant by EPSRC for the specific purpose of developing platform technology (sometimes called foundational technology) for synthetic biology. As a result of the strength of the research within the Flowers Consortium, CSynBI was invited to become members of SynBERC.

Researchers at CSynBI played a large role in teaching synthetic biology at Imperial College through undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Synthetic Biology is a technical option for year 3 BEng and MEng undergraduate students following both the Electrical and Mechanical pathways of the Biomedical Engineering programmes. It is also available to students working towards a BSc in Biochemistry or Biology. At the postgraduate level CSynBI is proud to offer an MRes in Systems and Synthetic Biology and a successful and popular PhD programme.

The Current Situation
Since the end of the EPSRC grant that supported CSynBI until 2014, the number of PIs with active research in synthetic biology has continued to grow significantly, calling for further expansion of the collective synthetic biology research activities across Imperial College London. This expansion has triggered the incorporation of the Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology which was launched in December 2018. The Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology (IC-CSynB) provides leadership and vision for synthetic biology at Imperial College, whilst developing an open, inclusive and collaborative environment for the best interdisciplinary research and ideas to flourish. The new Centre is currently composed of 36 research groups across 6 Departments from the Faculties of Engineering, Life Sciences, and Medicine; the largest critical mass of world-class synthetic biology academics in the UK.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink







including Industrial Biotechology

Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/synthetic-biology
Description CSynBI was established in May 2009 at Imperial College. It was designed as the first basic research centre specifically for synthetic biology in the UK. Initially, it comprised four academics and their respective PhD students - namely, Professors Kitney and Freemont, Dr Geoff Baldwin and Dr Karen Polizzi. Since then it has grown into an important international centre for research in synthetic biology. During the period of the grant (2009 to 2014), the centre grew four academics and a few students to over 10 PIs and around 80 PhD students - covering a range of areas relating to synthetic biology. - Prof. Richard Kitney (Information Systems, BioLogic, modelling) - Prof. Paul Freemont (Biosensors, part characterisation) - Prof Nik Rose (Ethical legal and Societal issues) - Dr Geoff Baldwin (Directed protein evolution) - Dr John Heap (Metabolic engineering and biocatalysis) - Dr Guy-Bart Stan Biomodelling analysis and control) - Dr Tom Ellis (DNA assembly, gene networks and modules) - Dr Clare Marris (Ethical legal and Societal issues) - Dr Karen Polizzi (Biosensors for bioprocessing) - During the period of the grant, the centre published over 50 full papers in leading journals, together with numerous conference publications. In addition, PIs in the centre gave a very significant number of Keynote and Plenary addresses. In parallel with the research work of the centre, the CSynBI academic staff were responsible for developing and running an undergraduate module in synthetic biology (which still runs today) that has had around 350 graduates. In addition, the CSynBI academic staff created an MRes/PhD programme, which has had over 100 graduates. More recently, the programme has developed into the CDT in BioDesign Engineering. Since the completion of the grant, CSynBI has continued to grow to become the Imperial College Synthetic Biology Hub ( https://www.imperial.ac.uk/synthetic-biology/ ). This now comprises: • The basic research centre, IC CSynBI, which now consists of many more PIs and their PhD students and postdocs from across Imperial College; • SynbiCITE - The U.K.'s National Industrial Translation Centre for Synthetic Biology, that works with over 80 companies, together with the six SBRCs (The U.K.'s Leading Synthetic Biology Research Centres) and other leading research centres across the UK. • The London Biofoundry, which currently provides facilities and scientific and technical expertise in support of many start-ups and SMEs. Have the findings from this award contributed to any non-academic impacts? A significant amount of the research and development work undertaken under the award has resulted in non-academic impacts. These have been translated into industry, so primarily via SynbiCITE and the London Biofoundry (www.synbicite.com ) How have your findings been used? The findings have been used as the basis for direct and indirect technological innovation in a number of companies. Examples are: LabGenius, Puraffinity, Touchlight; Colorifix, Arborea, Chain Biotech, EnzBond, Prokarium and Synthace.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Cultural



Description A Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact This report provides the vision and direction for supporting a world-leading synthetic biology community in the UK. Produced by an independent panel of experts for the government's Department for Business Innovation and Skills, it sets out a shared vision for realising the potential of synthetic biology in the UK. The roadmap aims to deliver a synthetic biology sector that is cutting edge; economically vibrant, diverse and sustainable; and of clear public benefit. Recommendations in the roadmap also provide a compass-bearing for the synthetic biology community, helping to align interests towards future growth opportunities, whilst identifying the resources and support needed to accelerate progress in the shorter term.
URL http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/publications/reports/syntheticbiologyroadmap/
Description PAS 246 - Use of standards for digital biological information in the design, construction and description of a synthetic biological system - Guide
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact PAS 246 - Use of standards for digital biological information in the design, construction and description of a synthetic biological system. Is a standard and guide to the development and use of data pertinent to bio-manufacturing and biotechnology
URL http://shop.bsigroup.com/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030303883
Description Imperial College Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public introduced to new emerging disruptive technology - Engineering Biology. Engineering of Biology to make really useful stuff. For example, seeing virtual reality labs and an introduction to new science that affects every day life. Including children's competitions, interactive technologies for all.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival/about/festival-2016/
Description Imperial Insights Workshop: Synthetic Biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Y10 Students inspired by synthetic biology and gained an insight into the research methods.

Students more likely to apply for science subjects
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Leadership Excellence Accelerator Programme (LEAP) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Each year about twenty Fellows - emerging leaders working in diverse areas of biotechnology - are selected to participate.

LEAP envisions catalysing a next generation of leaders in synthetic biology by providing the environment to learn skills for engaging a broad range of stakeholders in the development of the field with a strong ethical foundation for the future.
LEAP does this by:
Investing in the individuals who will ultimately shape and govern this diverse, growing and globally distributed technology.
Providing them with new tools and networks essential to achieving their visions for promoting innovation responsibly in practice.
Acting as a sustaining nexus of resources and support as leaders assume their roles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.synbicite.com/knowledge/leap/
Description SB6.0 - International Conference on Synthetic Biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The conference shared knowledge and generated future collaborations

Increased research momentum
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://sb6.biobricks.org/
Description Society for General Microbiology podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Inform the microbiology community about synthetic biology

Generated greater interest from the established microbiology community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://microbepost.org/2013/07/10/microbe-talk-july-2013/
Description SynbiCITE/IET Synthetic Biology Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The IET and leading innovation and knowledge centre, SynbiCITE teamed up to bring the 1st IET /SynbiCITE Conference on Engineering Biology 2016.
Synthetic biology is a young and interdisciplinary field of research in the life sciences. It is already revolutionising a number of fields using tools and concepts from physics, engineering and computer science to build new biological systems. The Conference on Engineering Biology 2016 provided a focal point for the international synthetic biology community to congregate and share cutting edge research in synthetic biology and how these findings are being commercialised and adopted by industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://conferences.theiet.org/synthetic-conference/about/index.cfm
Description iGEM competition and jamboree (UK & US) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The iGEM Competition is the premiere student team competition in Synthetic Biology..

For over 10 years, iGEM has been encouraging students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Student teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

Participation in the iGEM competition empowers teams to manage their own projects, advocate for their research and secure funding. Teams are also challenged to actively consider and address the safety, security and environmental implications of their work. The 2016 Imperial Team led by Dr Guy-Bart Stan and Dr Karen Polizzi, together with Profs Kitney and Freemont won the overall competition at the Jamboree, with their project which was entitled "Ecolibrium - developing a framework for engineering co-cultures". Profs Kitney and Freemont were judges at the 2017 Jamboree.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2016
URL http://2016.igem.org/Main_Page