EPSRC Frontier Engineering Research Programme

On the 21st April 2016 the University hosted a symposium to mark the mid-point in its flagship EPSRC Frontier Engineering research programme that aims to apply synthetic biology to problems in water supply and treatment. The symposium showcased a suite of exciting and highly-interdisciplinary projects that are pushing the boundaries of both synthetic biology and water engineering.

Prof Steve Beaumont (Emeritus Vice Principal) said of the meeting "The symposium demonstrated the excellent progress we are making as a result the grant. The grant has enabled cross disciplinary working and that has spawned further funding success. Furthermore, the cro-collaboration has given rise to additional work packages that we didn't envisage within the original application, one of which has been devised and developed by the PDRAs themselves It is clear that the grant is leveraging and contributing to the development of the extensive expertise in synthetic biology at University of Glasgow and our unique abilities to apply this to real world problems; in this case water treatment."

Prof Bill Sloan (Professor of Environmental Engineering who devised and leads the research programme) said "The quality of science that has been conducted under this grant is outstanding. It is particularly impressive that we have social scientists, engineers, chemists, microbiologists, synthetic biologists all working together on common problems. It has been especially pleasing to work with Scottish Water within this grant and to focus our research effort on the challenges faced by them around water and wastewater treatment."

In 2013 University of Glasgow were one of five UK institutions to be awarded a Frontiers Engineering grant by EPSRC. The £5M award was to develop synthetic biology solutions to the globally important problem of water supply and treatment. Over the past 3-years researchers from across the University have been working together to develop novel water technologies. Some of the research highlights presented at the symposium were: protocells designed to scavenge valuable products from wastewater (Jon Cooper & Julien Reboud); liquid handling robots driven by evolutionary algorithms that can rapidly evolve bespoke chemical oxidants for water treatment (Lee Cronin); and a multi lab effort to engineer the mix and spatial arrangement of bacteria in ‘synthetic communities’ that can optimize water treatment(Lee Cronin,  Bill Sloan & Huabing Yin) . The direction of the research programme has been significantly affected by the underpinning theme of 'responsible innovation' led by Joseph Murphy who has been looking at stakeholder and societal attitudes to synthetic biology. The researchers at Glasgow have invited external experts onto their Advisory Group to guide the project and these include: George Ponton, Head of Research and Innovation at Scottish Water; Orkun Soyer, Professor of Synthetic Biology and Warwick University; Phil McNaghten, Professor of  Technology and International Development at Wageningen University; and Tom Curtis, Porfessor of Environmental Engineering at Newcastle.  The Advisory Group’s input has been invaluable in shaping the programme and maximizing its impact.  

First published: 22 April 2016