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The UK’s Science and Technology Secretary announces £100M Engineering Biology investment

Funding & Investments
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February 10, 2024

The UK government has allocated £100 million to spearhead groundbreaking technologies aimed at bolstering pandemic preparedness, revolutionizing farming practices, and fortifying against floods.

This substantial investment will bolster six new 'Engineering Biology Mission Hubs' and 22 'Mission Award' projects nationwide, including two initiatives involving scientists from the esteemed Earlham Institute. These endeavors seek to harness the vast potential of Engineering Biology in tackling global challenges, fostering economic growth, and enhancing national resilience.

Engineering Biology stands as one of the five critical technologies identified by the government in its quest to position the UK as a science superpower, alongside AI, quantum computing, future telecoms, and semiconductors.

Dr. Nicola Patron, a distinguished figure at the Earlham Institute, will spearhead one of the Mission Awards while providing support for another led by the neighboring John Innes Centre.

In her statement, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Long term growth is the only way we will deliver the public services and improvements in living standards that every Briton wants for themselves and their families.

“But, as history shows, it is technological and scientific advances that are the true engine room of growth, and despite our existing strengths in these sectors, we cannot afford to pat ourselves on our back and take our eye off the ball.

“Cementing the UK as a Science and Technology superpower by 2030 is more than a slogan. It is a goal we must reach if we want to grow our economy, continue creating well-paid jobs and build a better, healthier, more prosperous future for the UK.”

In response to the funding announcement, Dr Patron said: “Engineers use prototyping and modelling to predict the impact of changes and how to improve their designs. In our lab, we apply those same principles to biology.

“This funding will support the use of engineering biology to identify how we can use targeted genetic technologies to enhance plants in two ways; by accelerating the development of resistance to fungal diseases and to use plants as factories for valuable molecules.

“Plant-infecting fungi can be devastating to crops, which impacts on food security. Rather than the slow, 'trial and error' approaches we've traditionally relied on, engineering biology approaches have the potential to identify how we can develop resistant plants without affecting other important traits, such as yield.

“Many plants produce an array of useful molecules, though often at low levels. We'll be using the latest techniques to adapt and refine the existing machinery so they can make more. This could usher in an era of glasshouses containing solar-powered factories for medicines and other useful natural products - many of which are environmentally unsustainable or expensive to build through chemical processes.”

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