Engineering plant organelles for food ingredient production

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


Livestock farming has an enormous environmental impact and contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, and deforestation. Demand for animal meat alternatives has grown and will continue to rise, however current alternative systems like fermentation or laboratory cultivation still have a net negative impact on the environment, releasing undesirable by-products. This project employs plant molecular farming, an emerging field that utilises photosynthetic organisms to produce commercial and pharmaceutical proteins and in particular, chloroplast transformation technologies to configure food and meat alternative ingredient production in both plants and algae. Chloroplast transformation technology carries attractive features such as the specific integration of transgenes -either individually or as operons- into the plastid genome through homologous recombination, the potential for high level protein expression based on a prokaryotic gene expression system and environmental containment because of the maternal inheritance of the plastids.

The successful applicant will address these challenges by developing the synthetic biology tools for plastid transformation such as efficient configuration of promoters, UTRs, integration sites, signal peptides and multigene expression cassette for optimal protein expression in both plant and algae systems. Subsequently, the phenotype of the transplastomic plants will be characterised by using biochemical and physiological analysis methods. Furthermore, the downstream processing procedure will be investigated for the successfully expressed protein for further commercialisation. Moreover, the developed tools will be further optimised and applied for crop plants.

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.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022856/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2602606 Studentship EP/S022856/1 04/10/2021 30/09/2025 Alexia Groff