£5m Frontier Engineering grant to safeguard world's water

A team of biologists, chemists and engineers from the University of Glasgow has received a major grant to study how cutting-edge technology could help avert a future crisis in water supply and treatment.

UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced today at the first Global Grand Challenges Summit in London that the University will lead one of five projects to address some of the world’s major engineering challenges. The Frontier Engineering projects will share £25m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and other partners.

The University of Glasgow team will work to develop synthetic biology solutions to growing problems with the world’s water supply.

The developed world’s water infrastructure, developed with tremendous vision and effort by the engineers of the industrial revolution, is now unsustainable: aged, faulty, expensive to maintain, costly to run, and energy-inefficient.  

In many countries water demand will exceed supply by an estimated 40% within 25 years and one-third of humanity, predominantly in the developing world, will have half the clean water required for life's basics.

Professor Steve Beaumont, Vice-Principal Research and Engineering at the University of Glasgow, said: “Water supply and treatment is a vitally important global challenge, and it’s vital to deliver new, more sustainable, engineering technologies to safeguard the world’s access to water.

 “The Frontier Engineering award will allow us to investigate a broad spectrum of synthetic biology approaches to addressing these pressing issues. We’ll engage in new research including cloning genes into existent organisms to developing minimal cells supporting plasmid vectors and protein expression machinery and even evolving inorganic ‘life’.”

Mr Willetts said: “Over the last two centuries engineering innovations have transformed lives, but we still face global challenges like tackling climate change, improving healthcare and meeting basic needs, like access to clean water. This significant investment recognises the vital role that the UK research base can have in providing solutions to these challenges.” 

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy said: “The issues being explored at the Global Grand Challenges Summit highlight how important it is for the UK to fund engineering research in these areas and work with colleagues worldwide to develop both the people and projects to meet the demands of the twenty first century.” 

The four other Frontier Engineering projects are Imperial College London’s ‘ Scaling up synthetic biology’; University College London’s ‘Nature inspired engineering’; the University of Newcastle’s ‘Individualised multiscale simulation’ and the University of Sheffield’s ‘Simulation of open engineering biological systems’.

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For more information contact Ross Barker in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 8593 or email ross.barker@glasgow.ac.uk

Notes to Editors: 

1.         Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk


First published: 12 March 2013

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