Synthetic Biology

Our Institute is a centre for research in the rapidly developing field of Synthetic Biology, which aims to create biological systems with new functionalities. For example, synthetic biologists are creating micro-organisms that can synthesize biofuels and chemical substances for industry, or safely process or degrade waste materials. Other synthetic biologists are engineering crop plants to improve their productivity.

A major focus of our synthetic biology research is the development of novel molecular tools for a variety of applications. In particular, we are creating improved technologies for construction of long DNA sequences encoding genes that confer new functionalities on organisms. This programme involves the molecular engineering of enzymes known as site-specific recombinases and transposases, which carry out “cut and paste” editing of DNA. We are also using these enzymes to implement biological programs in cells (analogous to computer programs) that switch sets of genes on or off at specific times or in response to specific signals, that can detect intracellular events or extracellular signals, and count the number of times they happen. Another area of our research involves photosynthetic microbes (cyanobacteria); we aim to use these organisms to harvest solar energy and use them for the production of biofuels and other chemicals, and for the improvement of water quality.

Researchers in the Plant Science theme are also applying synthetic biology approaches to improve water usage and other important traits that will ultimately offer new strategies to grow crops more efficiently, while Glasgow Polyomics provides expertise with systems-wide analysis for the synthetic design-build-test cycle.

In addition, the Synthetic Biology and Industrial Biotech cluster at University of Glasgow is a dynamic group of researchers that draws cross-cutting capabilities from 3 of our 4 Colleges to engage with industry and external collaborations.

Synthetic Biology staff

Anna Amtmann

Professor Anna Amtmann

Professor for Molecular Plant Physiology (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: Molecular mechanisms for mineral nutrition and salt'drought resistance of plants.

Michael Blatt

Professor Michael Blatt

Professor - Regius Professor of Botany (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: Ion channel structure and function in plant cell signalling. Mechanisms and roles of membrane trafficking proteins in cellular homeostasis and stress responses of plants.

Neil Bulleid

Professor Neil Bulleid

Professor in Cell Biology (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: How proteins fold, assemble and are modified in the endoplasmic reticulum of mammalian cells.

John Christie

Professor John Christie

Professor of Photobiology (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: Molecular basis of UV/blue light signalling in plants; Engineering novel fluorescent proteins; Design of synthetic photoswitches for optogenetic applications

Richard Cogdell

Professor Richard Cogdell

Professor - Hooker Chair of Botany (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: The Structure and Function of Purple Bacterial Photosynthetic Membrane Proteins.

Sean Colloms

Dr Sean Colloms

Senior Lecturer (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: Mechanism, function and applications of enzymes that cut and rejoin DNA.

Marshall Stark

Professor Marshall Stark

Professor of Molecular Genetics (Institute of Molecular Cell & Systems Biology)

Research interests: Mechanisms of DNA site-specific recombination systems, and their applications in Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology