EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in BioDesign Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

Synthetic Biology is the underpinning discipline for advances in the UK bioeconomy, a sector currently worth ~£200Bn GVA globally. It is a technology base that is revolutionising methods of working in the biotechnology sector and has been the subject of important Government Roadmaps and supported by significant UKRI investments through the Synthetic Biology for Growth programme. This is now leading to a vibrant translational landscape with many start-ups taking advantage of the rapidly evolving technology landscape and traditional industries seeking to embed new working practices.

We have sought evidence from key industry leaders within the emerging technology space and received a clear and consistent response that there is a significant deficit of suitably trained PhDs that can bridge the gap between biological understanding and data science. Our vision is a CDT with an integrative training programme that covers experimentation, coding, data science and entrepreneurship applied to the design, realisation and optimisation of novel biological systems for diverse applications: BioDesign Engineers. It directly addresses the priority area 'Engineering for the Bioeconomy' and has the potential to underpin growth across many sectors of the bioeconomy including pharmaceutical, healthcare, chemical, energy, and food.

This CDT will bring together three world-leading academic institutions, Imperial College London (Imperial), University of Manchester (UoM) and University College London (UCL) with a wide portfolio of industrial partners to create an integrated approach to training the next generation of visionary BioDesign Engineers. Our CDT will focus on providing an optimal training environment together with a rigorous interdisciplinary program of cohort-based training and research, so that students are equipped to address complex questions at the cutting edge of the field. It will provide the highly-skilled workforce required by this emerging industry and establish a network of future UK Bioindustry leaders. The joint location of the CDT in London and Manchester will provide a strong dynamic link between the SE England biotech cluster and the Northern Powerhouse.

Our vision, which brings together a BioDesign perspective with Engineering expertise, can only be delivered by an outstanding and proven grouping of internationally renowned researchers. We have a supervisor pool of 66 world class researchers that span the associated disciplines and have a demonstrated commitment to interdisciplinary research and training. Furthermore, students will work directly with the London and Manchester DNA Foundries, embedding the next generation bioscience technologies and automation in their training and working practices.

Cohort training will be delivered through a common first year MRes at Imperial College London, with students following a 3-month taught programme and a 9-month research project at one of the 3 participating institutions. Cohort and industry stakeholder engagement will be ensured through bespoke training and CDT activities that will take place every 6 months during the entire 4-year span of the programme and include multi-year group hackathons, training in responsible research and innovation, PhD research symposia, industry research days, and entrepreneurial skills training.

Through this ambitious cohort-based training, we will deliver PhD-level BioDesign Engineers that can bridge the gap between rigorous engineering, efficient model-based design, in-depth cellular and biomolecular knowledge, high throughput automation and data science for the realisation and exploitation of engineered biological systems. This unique cohort-based training platform will create the next generation of visionaries and leaders needed to accelerate growth of the UK bioeconomy.

Planned Impact

The 2016 UK Roadmap Bio-design for the Bio-economy highlighted the substantial impact that synthetic biology can bring to the UK and global economies by developing: frontier science and technology; establishing a healthy innovation pipeline; a highly skilled workforce and an environment in which innovative science and businesses can thrive. Synthetic biology promises to transform the UK Bio-economy landscape, bringing bio-sustainable and affordable manufacturing routes to all industrial sectors and will ensure society can tackle many contemporary global Grand Challenges including: Sustainable Manufacturing, Environmental Sustainability Energy, Global Healthcare, and Urban Development. Whilst synthetic biology is burgeoning in the UK, we now need to build on the investments made and take a further lead in training next generation scientists to ensure sustained growth of a capable workforce to underpin the science base development and growth in an advanced UK bio-economy.
This training provided by this CDT will give students from diverse backgrounds a unique synthesis of computational, biomolecular and cellular engineering skills, a peer-to-peer and industrial network, and unique entrepreneurial insight. In so doing, it will address key EPSRC priority areas and Bioeconomy strategic priorities including: Next-generation therapeutics; Engineered biomaterials; Renewable alternatives for fuels, chemicals and other small molecules; Reliable, predictable, and scalable bioprocesses; Sustainable future; Lifelong health & wellbeing.
Advances created by our BioDesign Engineering approach will address major societal challenges by delivering new routes for chemical/pharma/materials manufacture through to sustainable energy, whilst providing clean growth and reductions in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints. Increased industry awareness of bio-options with better civic understanding will drive end-user demand to create market pull for products. The CDT benefits from unrivalled existing academic-industry frameworks at the host institutions, which will provide direct links to industrial partners and a direct pathway to early economic and industrial impact.

This CDT will develop 80-100 next-generation scientists and technologists (via the funded cohort and wider integration of aligned students at the three institutions) as adept scientists and engineers, instilled with technical leadership, who as broadly trained individuals will fill key skills gaps and could be expected to impact internationally through leadership roles in the medium term. Importantly the CDT addresses key skill-gaps identified with industry, which are urgently required to create and support high value jobs that will enable the UK to compete in global markets. Commercialisation and entrepreneurship training will equip the next generation of visionaries and leaders needed to accelerate and support the creation of new innovative companies to exploit these new technologies and opportunities.

The UK government identified Synthetic Biology as one of the "Eight Great Technologies" that could be a key enabler to economic and societal development. This CDT will be at the forefront of research that will accelerate the clean growth agenda and the development of a resilient circular bioeconomy, and will align with key EPSRC prosperity outcomes including a productive, healthy and resilient nation. To foster wider societal impact, the CDT will expect all students to contribute to public outreach and engagement activities including: open days, schools visits, and science festival events: students will participate in an outreach programme, with special focus on widening participation.

This CDT will contribute to the development of industrial strategy through the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC), Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF), and wider Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy and Professional Institutes.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022856/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2294276 Studentship EP/S022856/1 28/09/2019 30/06/2023 Annalise Zouein
2294175 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Liam Hallett
2294385 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 William Beardall
2294394 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 Joshua Whitehead
2294436 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Silvia Hernandez Aragon
2294369 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 Martina Oliver-Huidobro
2294378 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 Eliza Atkinson
2294428 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 Jake Bowden
2294389 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2019 30/06/2023 Francesca Smith
2505625 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Kimberley Anne Owen
2505622 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 James Fawcett
2501895 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/04/2024 Elisabeth Bavorova Bavorova
2505628 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Daniel Castellano Garrido
2505577 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Jamie Chloe Lee
2505676 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Bethan Highley
2505623 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Daniella Pretorius
2505639 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Eloise O'Connor
2505634 Studentship EP/S022856/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Megha Gill