Science Overview

In our search for better medicines to improve healthcare in an ageing population, for safer agrochemicals to aid food production for a growing population and for advanced materials for new technologies, the global demand for molecules based upon a group of relatively simple carbon based molecules (including ethylene, propylene, butadiene and benzene) continues to increase. Sadly current petroleum and natural gas-based supply chains simply can’t continue to expand to meet this burgeoning need. We can only close this increasing gap between supply and demand by innovating and solving serious scientific challenges.

Funded by the BBSRC and EPSRC, the UK Government has initiated the creation of a number of multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRC) charged with the accelerating the realisation of the benefits of the outputs of Synthetic Biology to business and society.

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is “the design and engineering of biologically based parts, novel devices and systems as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems”. It is a newly emerged scientific discipline that has arisen through the merger of several core areas of science, principally biology, engineering, chemistry and Information Communication Technology.

The SBRC-Nottingham will:

  • use Synthetic Biology to engineer microorganisms that can be used to manufacture the molecules and fuels that modern society needs in a cleaner and greener way.
  • harness the ability of organisms, to ‘eat’ single-carbon containing gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

When these gases are injected into the liquid medium of fermentation vessels they are consumed by the bacteria and converted into more desirable and useful molecules. Fortunately CO, our initial target, is an abundant resource, and a waste product of industries such as steel manufacturing, oil refining and chemical production. Moreover, it can be readily generated in the form of Synthesis Gas (‘Syngas’), by the gasification (heating) of forestry and agricultural residues and municipal waste.

By allowing the use of all these available low cost, non-food resources, such a process overcomes concerns over the use of land resources that could be used for food production. Furthermore, capturing the large volume of CO (destined to become CO2 once released into the atmosphere) emitted by industry for fuel and chemical production provides a net reduction in fossil carbon emissions. We will also develop new organisms that can grow on the sugar (glucose and xylose) released from the deconstruction of biomass, derived from municipal waste, agricultural residues and specialist crops grown on land that is unsuitable for food production.

Scientific Aims

The core scientific aims of the SBRC at Nottingham will be to:

  • specify
  • design
  • test
  • validate
  • exploit

microbial cell factories needed for the efficient production of the chemical that are essential for a modern industrial society.

Through effective communication and promotion we will showcase new science and demonstrate how organisms can make important molecules that will take the place of current fossil fuel based feedstocks. We will improve the current public perception of the scientific community and show how innovation can lead to economic and environmental benefits. We are passionate about sustainability and we believe we can share this vision to the rest of the UKs scientific community and the general public who use our products.