August 3, 2006 –
The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $16 million grant to establish SynBERC, the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, headed by Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Professor Jay Keasling.
SynBERC is gathering pioneers in the field of synthetic biology from around the United States into a unique “engineering” center with the goal of making significant advances in the engineering biology. The center includes collaborators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, UC San Francisco and Prairie View A&M University in Texas.
Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits and cells, or the redesign of existing biological systems. The field builds upon advances in molecular, cell and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and that integrated circuit design transformed computing. SynBERC will concentrate on developing interchangeable biological parts and demonstrating that standardization of the field will reap huge payoffs.
Industry participation and partnership is a key element of the Center, as is educating the next generation of biological engineers. Members of the team will create curricula on synthetic biology for K-12 and community college students, as well as for undergraduates and graduate students, encouraging the participation of minority and underrepresented students in particular. The NSF grant also will allow examination of the societal, ethical, and biosecurity or biosafety implications of synthetic biology in a way that integrates ethics and risk into the design process.
“Our goal is to maximize the use and positive impact of synthetic biology to solve the world’s most significant problems,” said Keasling.