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