News

SBRC Featured in New Scientist Magazine

Our article, is found on page 44 of the 20 June 2020 edition.

SBRC were invited to write an article for the prestigious New Scientist Magazine, which receives nearly 1 Million weekly readers.

Not being able to attend New Scientist Live 2020 due to Covid 19 was a deep disappointment. We look forward to our contact with the wider community and will now have to wait until 2021 for the next live performance! 

The blow, however, was softened somewhat, when we were invited to write an article for the prestigious New Scientist Magazine:


New Scientist Magazine Cover

 

Our article, to be found on page 44 of the 20 June 2020 edition, tells something of the science being carried out at the SBRC and highlights some of our industrial collaborations.

View a PDF version of the article Here

 

BBSRC iCASE Studentship in Nottingham - June 2020

This project will be based in the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) of the Biodiscovery Institute and will be supervised by Professor Nigel P Minton.

BBSRC iCASE:  Fighting Infection, Curing Cancer, Saving the Planet

The unique properties of the bacterial endospore make it the ideal vehicle for the delivery of therapeutic agents to solid tumours, to the human or plant microbiome as well as being essential to the storage and maintenance of cultures used in large scale industrial fermentations. Accordingly, spores have a significant role to play in treatment of cancer, in countering the threat caused by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in diseases of the human gut as well as in microbial production processes for chemicals and fuels that avoid the exploitation of environmentally damaging fossil reserves.

The bacterial endospore is one of the most highly resistant life-forms on earth and allows the organism to survive exposure to extremes of temperature, desiccation, disinfectants and radiation. The longevity of survival is astounding and can be measured not in tens or hundreds of years but in millions. In the current project, these properties will be refined and enhanced by using Synthetic Biology to re-wire the sporulation pathway such that spores are only produced under the required conditions and at a time when they are needed.

The project will focus on the positioning of known, and as yet unknown, genes essential to sporulation under the control of inducible promoters that are reliant on inducers that will not be encountered in the targeted niche. The suitability of promoters and their inducers will be tested using appropriate reporter genes. Known genes essential to sporulation will be taken from the literature, new targets will be identified using Transposon-directed Insertion Sequencing (TraDIS).  Initial work will test the suitability of the hybrid riboswitch-based promoter developed in the SBRC, RiboLac. Alternative systems will also be investigated.

This project will be based in the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) of the Biodiscovery Institute and will be supervised by Professor Nigel P Minton. The PhD is in collaboration with the company FOLIUM SCIENCE who are using Guided Biotics™ act to maintain healthy animals and plants, by selectively reducing unwanted bacteria, particularly pathogens, in the target microbiomes, including that of the soil.

How to apply: applicants should be submitted via https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/bbdtp/case-2020/case-projects/re-wiring-the-sporulation-pathway-to-prevent-strain-dispersion.aspx.

Ask your referee to submit their reference via https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/bbdtp/apply/submit-references.aspx.

This fully-funded studentship is available to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of their studies. EU students who do not meet this criteria are eligible for a fees-only award.

Application should also be sent via email with the subject line ‘BBSRC iCASE Studentship’ to loretta.waddon@nottingham.ac.uk.

References should be sent directly from the referees to nigel.minton@nottingham.ac.uk

 

PhD Position - June 2020

A PhD position has become available at the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) in Nottingham.

Systems Biology of Hydrogen Oxidising Bacteria for the Production of High Quality Feed Protein and Other Feed Ingredients.

We are seeking a motivated PhD student with interest in microbiology, industrial fermentation, analytical chemistry and big data analysis for a project that addresses the issues of climate change and food security by turning CO2 into feed and food protein.

Background: The world’s population is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050, requiring significant increases in food production. The intake of protein per person is also expected to rise sharply. Hence, a substantial increase in food protein production is needed to meet demands. Conventional sources of protein are linked to greenhouse gas emissions and impact on biodiversity. Hence, there is an urgent need for innovative, sustainable protein production at scale. Hydrogen oxidising bacteria are a promising alternative as a sustainable source of so-called single cell protein. These bacteria fix CO2 and generate protein-rich biomass using hydrogen as a source of energy.

Aims and approach: The proposed study will be undertaken in close collaboration with our industrial partner, Deep Branch Biotechnology Ltd (www.deepbranchbio.com), a Nottingham based company that is revolutionising the use of bacteria to capture industrial carbon into feed ingredients. The nutritional value of a feed or food product strongly depends on cellular protein content and composition. A deeper understanding of how different bacterial growth conditions impact these parameters would be beneficial to industry and further our scientific understanding of bacterial cell metabolism. Using a set of model organisms and industrial strains, the project will seek to address this by systematic variation of culturing conditions, compositional analysis of the created biomass and omics analysis of bacterial cells grown under the different conditions. In combination with predictive modelling the generated data will help to establish the molecular basis of the observed changes and potential underlying mechanisms. Conditions found to be favourable in the laboratory will be tested at large scale with industrially produced CO2. As part of the offered training, Deep Branch Biotechnology will offer the opportunity to gain experience at an industrial site.

Research environment: You will join the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) Nottingham which is dedicated to the exploration of carbon dioxide-fixing bacteria. The centre is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities including laboratories dedicated to gas fermentation, high-throughput robotics, genetics and analytics (HPLC, GC, GC-MS, LC-MS-MS). This unique, interdisciplinary research environment provides opportunity to work with over 100 researchers that have expertise in molecular microbiology, chemistry, engineering, bioinformatics, computer science and systems biology. Part of the project will be carried out at Deep Branch Biotechnology.

The project will be supervised by Dr Klaus Winzer and Dr Ying Zhang of School of Life Sciences. Informal queries can be contacted to Dr Klaus Winzer.

How to apply: for your application please use the link given below or use https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/bbdtp/case-2020/apply-for-case.aspx.

The deadline for application is until the space is filled.

Referees should submit their references via  https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/bbdtp/apply/submit-references.aspx.

Linder, T. Making the case for edible microorganisms as an integral part of a more sustainable and resilient food production system. Food Sec. 11, 265–278 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-019-00912-3

Pander et al. Hydrogen oxidising bacteria for production of single cell protein and other food and feed ingredients. Engineering Biology (2020); DOI:  10.1049/enb.2020.0005 https://digital-library.theiet.org/content/journals/10.1049/enb.2020.0005

 

Students design award-winning superbug 'eater'

The concept of a new bacteria-eating virus designed to fight the modern-day superbug Clostridium difficile, has been developed by a team of University of Nottingham students in a global competition.

The ‘bacteriophage’ was devised by the team as part of their synthetic biology project that recently won a prestigious Gold Medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston, USA.

C. difficile infection is the most common cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in the western world and is a big problem in hospitals and healthcare facilities. The disease symptoms are caused by the release of two major toxins by the bacterium. 

Under normal circumstances, a healthy gut microbiome prevents the proliferation of C. difficile. However, when these good bacteria are obliterated by the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, the bug proliferatesand causes disease. One way to counter the expansion in numbers of toxin-producing C. difficile is to use competing strains that are not producing toxin as a probiotic. 

The aim of the Nottingham iGEM team’s project, called Clostridium dTox; it’s not so difficile was to engineer a C. difficile bacteriophage (phage), to produce factors that would suppress toxin production. They demonstrated that the latest gene-editing techniques could be used to repress expression of both toxin genes (tcdAand tcdB) by targeting their mRNA. The ultimate goal is a C. difficile-specific bacteriophage therapeutic which stops toxin production in those cells that are infected with the phage, converting them into health-promoting probiotics. Unlike antibiotics, phage cause no collateral damage to the native gut microbiome.

The team was also nominated at iGEM for ‘Best New Composite Part’. A composite part is a functional unit of DNA consisting of two or more basic parts assembled together. These must include all characterisation information and be added to the Registry.

iGEMTeam_2018

Around 400 teams of more than 5,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from 45 countries competed at iGEM. They were tasked with using the principles of synthetic biology, the ‘Engineering of Biology’, to design biological parts, devices or systems to address a real-world problem or to perform a novel, previously unseen function. The best ‘parts’ of every project are then submitted in the form of a ‘BioBrick’ to the iGEM BioBrick registry for use by others.

Director of the University of Nottingham’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre, Professor Nigel Minton, said: “This was a tremendous achievement considering the short time that the team had to design, build and test the parts needed for the innovative project they devised. We broke new ground for iGEM by engineering a strict anaerobic bacterium, rather than the more traditional chassis other teams focus on. This was made possible by the extensive skills and expertise available through the involvement of SBRC researchers who gave so much of their free time to supervise the team.”  

The University’s Gold-winning team members were; Lucy Allen, Hassan Al-ubeidi, Ruth Bentley, Sofya Berestova, Eun Cho, Lukas Hoen, Daniel Partridge, Varun Lobo, Fatima Taha and Nemira Zilinskaite.  For the duration of their project they were embedded within BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC)  at Nottingham, under the overall guidance of Nigel P Minton and Philippe Soucaille and under the close supervision of a dedicated multidisciplinary team comprising Louise Dynes, Daphne Groothuis, Dr Christopher Humphreys, Dr Carmen McLeod, Dr Michaella Whittle and Dr Craig Woods.

Human Practices and Public Engagement

The team devised a number of activities that explored how their creation, Clostridium dTox, could impact society. This included mining and carrying out a sentiment analysis of data from hundreds of social media comments on an online phage therapy video and exploring the current legislation surrounding phage therapy. They also researched what makes C. difficile such an important issue to society and how their project can help make a positive impact on communities by working towards the development of a novel therapy for its treatment. Finally, they held a discussion group with non-scientists, and interviewed five leading scientific experts in the field, including the UK Public Health England lead on C. difficile infection, to understand how the team could make their project as effective as possible.

Public engagement was an important focus for the team, which developed hands-on workshops to communicate the project in local schools, libraries, the media and to staff and students at the University. 

What the Judges said

Great project, great wiki!! You just light up so many questions in my mind and actually this is the key of synthetic biology! Thank you so much for your effort and all hard work!”

Super interesting idea to use temperate phages for this! …. You are clear on your achievements and reasoning throughout, which is super refreshing. Great effort!”

Really terrific modelling efforts! I really liked how thoroughly your work was documented on your wiki; everything was very clear.”

Overall the project idea was very innovative, and you have great characterization on your parts. Good job!” 

Very impressive! It is very inspiring that your project used phage therapy, RNA interference and the extended application of CRISPR/Cas technology.”

Amazing job, I hope that you continue this project.”

Sponsors

Nottingham’s iGEM team was generously supported by the University of Nottingham’s Research Priority Area in Industrial Biotechnology, through grant funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) via the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre, by generous cash donations from Don Whitley Scientific Ltd, LanzaTech and  Seres Therapeutics and through in-kind support from Qiagen, Millipore Sigma, Promega, Eppendorf, New England Biolabs, LabFolder and Snapgene.  

Collaborators

The team is also grateful for the support given by the following collaborators: Team Biomarvel Korea and the teams from Imperial College London and the University of Warwick. 

SponsorLogos

 

SBRC - Nottingham returns to New Scientist Live 2018

For the second year in a row, The Synthetic Biology Research Centre – Nottingham (SBRC) and its associated BBSRC NIBB - C1net hosted an exhibition stand which highlighted the great research we do here at the centre. The exhibition stand included an interactive computer model of a biochemical pathway displayed on an iPAD, developed by members of the SBRC computational team. This gave visitors the opportunity to decide how they would alter a metabolic pathway to produce the required end-product. Following from the success of having an anaerobic microbiology cabinet last year, Don Whitley Scientific very kindly loaned one of their anaerobic cabinets once again for us to display as part of our exhibition. We gave visitors an idea of what is like working in these cabinets through a fun task. This required them to transfer ‘knitted bacteria’ from falcon tubes into Petri dishes using tweezers against the clock! 

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We developed a Raspberry Pi sequencer for NSL to demonstrate how we check DNA sequences for errors. With assistance from Dr Michael Wilson of the Advanced Data Analysis Centre (ADAC), programming languages Python and Java were used to convert data generated by coloured beads (representing DNA nucleotides) passing an LED and colour sensor into the corresponding 4-letter DNA sequence.    

    IMG_4003             20180919_190528

Then we had several display cases showing Petri dishes and microscope images of the bacteria we use in the SBRC, plus a mini-bioreactor to help us explain how fermentation processes could be scaled up. Accompanying this we had some examples of potential products, such as a model tyre and a fuel tank, to demonstrate where the C1 compounds could end up after the bacteria have converted them into useful chemicals.      

“The new Scientist Live was a unique experience, as it offered the opportunity to communicate and explain the benefits of our scientific research to a wide range of people, aged between 9yrs and 40yrs. Not only were we able to inspire the young generation but also inform and address the concerns of many adults and older people. Of course such a huge event attracted people from different scientific fields, which gave us a good insight into what is happening in other universities and companies around the globe. I am really grateful for the opportunity to be part of the SBRC’s NSL team and I would definitely volunteer for that again.” Stylianos Grigoriou, SBRC PhD Student.

The final section of our stand was part of a collaboration set up with ARUP, a multinational professional services firm which provides engineering, design, planning and consulting services for aspects of the built environment. ARUP’s digital technical team designed a Virtual Reality Lab for us to use on the stand. Visitors were able to play the Virtual Reality demonstration and get the full feeling (visual and sound) of what it’s like to work in a lab, without having the risks of being in a full working lab environment. This included a serial dilution experiment and an explanation to why we do this technique as part of our synthetic biology research. With many people queuing up for this exhibit over the weekend, it was certainly a major draw to the stand.

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Over the 4 day event we were helped by many brilliant volunteers from the SBRC, who all demonstrated their enthusiasm and passion for science in their conversations as well as convincing possible sceptics about the benefits of our research. This was a great chance for them to inspire and motivate young people, adults and family audiences in which they all did an amazing job.

New Scientist Live was an enjoyable and valuable experience, interacting with the public and talking about our work in the SBRC at a range of levels, from the very young to adults as well as more experienced and knowledgeable members of the public. I was very impressed with what our outreach team put together for the SBRC exhibit; a virtual reality lab experience, Don Whitley Scientific anaerobic cabinet and Raspberry pi benchtop sequencer which all drew large crowds. I was proud to be part of the team and to represent SBRC Nottingham at such a high profile event.” Dr Andrew Dempster, SBRC Post-Doctoral Researcher.

 Another one of the highlights of the event was an amazing Cupriavidus necator bacterium costume (or Cooper as he was named) hand-made by SBRC post-doctoral researcher Dr Christian Arenas. This was a superb addition to the stand bringing in frequent curious visitors!! Many younger visitors were very interested in Cooper and Dr Christian explained that Cupriavidus necator is not a harmful bacteria but a helpful one which can turn waste gases into something useful!


fcf7bfed-9d21-40a1-94bb-06227798b8e0

The event was extremely successful not only as a fantastic opportunity to highlight the wonderful cutting edge research taking place at SBRC–Nottingham but also for the researchers to raise public awareness and practice their science communication.

It was great seeing how people reacted when some of the things that might seem unreal and the products of imagination were mentioned. In some way we showed there that the weirdest ideas can come true with work and will. We, researchers, sadly live in a bubble difficult to break in the working environment. In my opinion, it is necessary to break it once upon a while, and these events are a perfect occasion for it. Seeing some of these surprised faces, especially the children’s, made the event worthy and left me a very good sensation at the end. Diego Orol Gomez, SBRC PhD Student.

 ARUP photo

A very big special thanks goes to everyone involved in the organisation and delivery of this event including:

SBRC Committee Members: Louise Dynes (Project Manager), Dr Christian Arenas, Dr Ruth Cornock, Michelle Kelly and Dr Pippa Strong

SBRC Volunteers: Dr Andrew Dempster, Dr Muhammad Ehsaan, Stylianos Grigoriou, Diego Orol Gomez, Dr Patrick Ingle, Dr Carmen McLeod, Jacque Minton, Claudio Tomi Andrino and Federico Turco

Sponsors:

 grouplogos

 

RCUK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Hub

The last few weeks have been busy with reports and experimental work, but also with proposals. In particular we are working on a full proposal for an RCUK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Hub. The topic is Industrial Biotechnology for Sustainable Development, and we were awarded an RCUK GCRF travel grant for a trip to meet with partners and stakeholders in India and work on developing the bid.

We managed to meet a wide range of organisations including large and small companies in the waste management, biotech and chemicals sectors, and also social enterprises, NGOs and government funded agencies. We can’t mention everyone, but particularly good sessions with companies Tata Chemicals, Praj Industries, Godavari Biorefineries, String Bio, Waste Ventures and Noval Ltd; NGOs Saahas and Toxic Link; the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council and the National Solid Waste Association of India who all gave excellent advice.

As well as Prof Banks and Dr Heaven from BORRG, the UK visitors included Dr Joseph Gallagher and Dr David Bryant from Aberystwyth University’s Biomass Conversion and Biorefining group, Prof Nigel Minton from the University of Nottingham’s Synthetic Biology Centre, Prof Patricia Thornley from the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, and Dr Pathik Pathak who directs Southampton’s Social Impact Lab. The host team included Prof Arvind Lali and Dr Annamama Odaneth from ICT Mumbai, Dr S Venkata Mohan from CSIR-IICT Hyderabad and Dr Shams Yazdani from ICGEB Delhi.

nigel-540x380

 

If anyone offers you the chance to organise a trip involving visits by 10 senior academics to 5 separate cities on different days, the best advice is – duck. But in fact the visit was amazingly effective, allowing us to meet as a team and also to gather information, views and ideas from other stakeholder that will significantly strengthen the proposal. One particularly good feature was the round table sessions run by Pathik Pathak and Patricia Thornley at the end of the week.

Special thanks to Uma Patil of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Science and Innovation Adviser at the British Deputy High Commission in Mumbai, who worked miracles to make it a really profitable trip.

Postgrads and postdocs are no doubt envious: actually this type of visit is more hard work than glamour and I don’t think anyone had time to see a single cultural artefact or historic site. On the other hand, these guys are all big names in their fields and were talking to some really expert groups on the subjects they love best – I guess you can’t ask for anything more enjoyable than that!

Links:

 

Robots in the Synthetic Biology Research Centre - Nottingham

A state of the art robotics suite has been installed at the Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) Nottingham. The equipment, worth over £1.1m will enable world leading synthetic biology research. Scientists will use the robots to engineer large numbers of bacterial strains to turbo-charge their work towards creating chemicals for industry and transport fuels from waste materials. For example one of the foci of the SBRC is the creation of Cupriavidus necator strains capable of producing chemicals such as 3-Hydroxypropionic acid from waste single carbon gases, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Furthermore the robots will be used to help advance our understanding of native bacterial CRISPR systems. This technology will play an important role in helping us modify pathways to improve the metabolic flux towards chemical products such as ethanol or 2,3 butanediol. 

Thanks to its modular construction our robotics platform is also well suited to help each of our researchers at different stages of their work. For example, a researcher may need to test hundreds of primer pair combinations to select a desired PCR product; or they may need to screen hundreds of bacterial colonies in their search for a desired DNA fragment or gene with required properties. Currently these types of experiments can take weeks or even months to accomplish. Using the robotic platform these types of work will take less than a week. Additionally, thanks to built-in Data Acquisition, Reporting Tools and a barcoding system, the scientists can easily access and extract all the necessary information about protocols or samples at any future time point.

The robotic platforms enable automation of common pipelines in molecular biology including plasmid assembly, transformation of bacteria, colony picking and screening. The SBRC-Nottingham will work with other researchers in the University and the wider area in order to fully utilise the high-throughput capabilities of the equipment. The platforms contain liquid handling robots, thermocyclers, a colony picker and spreader, incubators, shakers and a plate reader, connected by a robotic arm.

Robot 1Gene assembly, PCR, DNA size selection, cherry picking & quality control.

Colony picking, culture plating, sample collection, inoculation, & analyte purification.

 

Nigel Minton, Director of the SBRC-Nottingham said: ‘This is a fantastic addition to our research capability. The robots will allow us to not only automate many routine procedures but carry out 100s of experiments in parallel –something we can’t do currently. This will free up our specialist and highly-skilled research teams to focus on the more academically challenging aspects of their research and enhance our progress towards using bacteria to make chemicals and fuels for us sustainably’.

More information is available from:

The SBRC Nottingham is a BBSRC/EPSRC joint funded research centre led by Professor Nigel Minton and employs approximately 120 researchers including academics, research and technical staff and PhD students. The main location for the SBRC is the University’s flagship CBS Building on the University Park campus, Nottingham. In the UK, six synthetic biology research centres have been funded by the government in Bristol, Cambridge/Norwich, Manchester, Edinburgh, Warwick and Nottingham. These centres are part of a £200m investment in Synthetic Biology by the UK government.

Beckman Coulter was selected as the supplier of the robotic platform after a competitive tender process.

They are working closely with the SBRC during the installation of the equipment. Contacts: