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.



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!

GCRF Hubs call…/interdisciplinary-research-hubs-to-address…
UK FCO Science and Innovation Network…/organisations/uk-science-and-innovation-network
ICT Mumbai
CSIR IICT Hyderabad


New Scientist Live! – London September 2017

New Scientist Live! Is a major science public engagement event at the Excel centre in London, which showcased a wide range of UK science innovations, with examples ranging from astronomy to microbiology. There was everything from VIP speakers such as Tim Peake to hands on demos, for example VR headsets that allowed you to experience the reality of a dementia patient.

I was lucky enough to be on the organising committee at this outreach event for the SBRC- Nottingham, which was funded both by SBRC – Nottingham and its associated network - C1net the Louise Dynes (SBRC Outreach Officer), Jacque Minton (C1net Manager), Shelly Kelly (SBRC Research Technician), Alan Burbidge (SBRC Centre Manager) and myself worked together to develop a fun and interactive stand, which would highlight the great research we do here at the SBRC- Nottingham. We designed a storyboard showing the various stages involved to go from concept to finished product and to help explain the science to everyone. We even had our own mascot Woody the Woodii, who helped walk people through each of the different steps.


Woody the woodii drawings by Penny Strong


We started with an interactive computer model of a biochemical pathway, developed by members of the SBRC computational team - Nicole Pearcy and Rupert Norman, which allowed people to decide how they would alter a pathway to produce the required end product. Next was a Don Whitley anaerobic cabinet that people could try, to give them an idea of what working in these cabinets was really like (especially as it was set to 37oC!). With kids queuing up for this exhibit on the weekend, it was certainly a major draw to the stand. Then there was a microscope showing what these bacteria actually look like, followed by a mini bioreactor to help explain how this process could be scaled up. Finally we had some examples of potential products, such as a model tyre and fuel tank, to demonstrate where the C1 compounds could end up after the bacteria had converted them into useful chemicals.


Volunteers explaining the great research at the Synthetic Biology Research Centre


A visitor having a go at our anaerobic cabinet courtesy of Don Whitley



At the event itself we were helped by many wonderful volunteers, who all demonstrated their enthusiasm and passion for science in their conversations, convincing possible sceptics about the benefits of our research. With over 30,000 visitors attending over the 4 day event, there was certainly plenty of opportunity to reach lots of people. We had interest from a diverse range of backgrounds including; current scientists, potential future Nottingham students, children who we helped inspire with future possibilities and even artists and the media, who could help spread our research message even further. Overall I feel this was a great opportunity to highlight the wonderful cutting edgeresearch of the SBRC – Nottingham and to educate and inform the general public.

By Dr Pippa Strong, Research Fellow – Synthetic Biology Research Centre.logos


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.

Rocot 2Colony 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:

Professor Nigel Minton, Director BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre, University of Nottingham  

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. Contact Magdalena Jonczyk ( for more information about the robots and to arrange a tour of the facility.

Contact Alan Burbidge ( for more information about the SBRC Nottingham.



SBRC Newsletters

Read about our grant success, conferences, visitors and much more in our latest newsletters:

Issue 6 - December 2017

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