Category Archives: NEWS

Information Days on 2018-2020 Horizon 2020 Calls for Proposals

Information Days on 2018-2020 Horizon 2020 Calls for Proposals

The European Commission will organise a number of information days in Brussels on the upcoming 2018-2020 calls for proposals in the last Work Programme of Horizon 2020 (to be published in October). These events will provide information on the content of the calls and will often be combined with dedicated brokerage events to support prospective applicants with finding partners for projects. The following events are planned in the coming months

Furthermore, a series of national events is also planned by Innovate UK and the Enterprise Europe Network. A list of planned and confirmed events can be found on the Innovate Knowledge Transfer Network’s website.

Synthetic Biology Start-up company survey results

Synthetic Biology Start-up company survey results

A survey of synthetic biology company start-ups in the UK is published today by SynbiCITE, the UK’s national centre for the commercialisation of synthetic biology. The study reveals a vibrant ecosystem sustaining a thriving and rapidly growing sector of the bioeconomy.

Highlighting sources of innovation and entrepreneurship, and exploring R&D, technology transfer, investment and growth, the survey covers UK starts-ups between 2000 and 2016. A close look at 146 synthetic biology companies shows that the number of start-ups has doubled every five years during the survey period. Looking ahead, it seems likely that with the right support, the UK synthetic biology ecosystem will be able to model itself on the self-sustaining clusters found in the US in Silicon Valley, CA, and Cambridge, MA.

“Confirming the arrival of a new innovation ecosystem demands evidence: proof that variables ranging from investment, pipeline infrastructure, to talent and education are established and stable”, said Dr. Stephen Chambers, CEO, SynbiCITE. “We believe the industry has reached a critical mass of companies, showing a healthy churn of attrition and creation. Roughly 76% of all the start-ups founded in the survey period are still active and with the continuation of an effective national strategy in the future, this ecosystem will undoubtedly thrive, creating jobs and wealth while sustaining the UK’s leading role in the field.”

Professor Richard Kitney, Co-Director, SynbiCITE commented: “As you’d expect of an industrial sector at a relatively early stage, synthetic biology in the UK will continue to require public as well as private investment. This will be essential to translate today’s research into the exciting industrial products of the future that promise to make such a positive difference to our world in health, energy, materials and the environment.”

“Patience will be crucial,” added Professor Paul Freemont, Co-Director, SynbiCITE, “the UK government has shown great support for synthetic biology, investing £300m in between 2009-2016. We have no doubt this industry has a bright future, and look forward to expanding our work with world leaders in synthetic biology in the USA and Asia for example where so much exciting work is being done”.

Take a look at the survey UK Synthetic Biology Start-up Survey 2017

JRC Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre Launched

​The European Commission has launched a new Joint Research Centre (JRC) Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre (BKC). The BKC is the fourth Knowledge Centre to be launched by the JRC in recent years and aims to bring information and data from a wide variety of sources together in one place, in an open format. In doing so, the BKC aims to help provide a more coherent picture of knowledge on the bioeconomy across Europe, as well as identify gaps and bring information closer to the general public and policy makers. Following on from the work of the JRC Bioeconomy Observatory, it is hoped that the BKC will play a key role in the development of EU policies in the short, medium and long term.

SPOTLIGHT ON INDUSTRY: Keith Thomas, Brewlab Limited

Keith Thomas, Brewlab Limited

What is your background and current job role?

Brewlab is a leading provider of training and analysis services for the international brewing industry, based in purpose built premises on the banks of the river Wear in Sunderland. I am currently director of Brewlab Ltd, responsible for company developments and project management.  I am also a senior lecture in Microbiology at the University of Sunderland teaching undergraduate, MSc and PhD students in microbiology, biotechnology and food sciences.  My background in food and beverage production with specialisms in brewing, yeast physiology for food applications and developing novel raw materials.

What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?

We have three major projects currently ongoing:

  1. Developing uses for brewing by-products with a focus on bioremediation and reintroduction into food products.
  2. Assessment of historic barley varieties for application to contemporary brewing.
  3. Matching of yeast strains to beverage characteristics.

What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years? 

  1. Molecular biology techniques to identify relevant microorganisms and genes which may assist bioremediation and food flavouring.
  2. Bulk scale trials.
  3. Compiling the range of flavours possible into a palatable beverage.

How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?

Collaborations to provide specialist input.

You can contact Keith at keith@brewlab.co.uk

SPOTLIGHT ON INDUSTRY: Charles Bavington, GlycoMar

Charles Bavington, GlycoMar

What is your background and current job role?

I am the founder of GlycoMar and a biochemist with over 15 years experience in marine biotechnology. I graduated of the University of Edinburgh and then completed my PhD at the same university, studying proteoglycan metabolism in cartilage. This was followed by postdoctoral research at Dunstaffnage marine lab studying invertebrate glycans and cell adhesion. Subsequently I worked for Integrin Advanced Biosystems Ltd, a marine biotechnology and testing company, holding the positions of Operations Manager and Research & Development Manager. My commercial interests are in entrepeneurship and development of effective life science innovation business models. My scientific interest is in glycobiology and its role in cell-cell interactions.

What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?

GlycoMar is a biotechnology company discovering and developing products for the healthcare and personal care markets. The company, founded in 2005, has an established discovery platform technology based on glycobiology products, which generates valuable intellectual property. The company evaluates the functional properties of its novel glycobiology products to identify the best candidates for development and the best market application, which include pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare, cosmetic and nutraceutical.

GlycoMar is developing novel consumer healthcare products addressing inflammatory disorders such as eczema and rhinitis, and pharmaceutical products that address unmet clinical needs in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. The company is developing cosmetic ingredients for the skincare market and nutraceutical ingredients for the supplements and functional food markets. Our development programme is being carried out both in house and with commercial partners.

GlycoMar seeks to develop its discoveries to generate value through out licensing. The value of GlycoMar’s technology has been demonstrated through early stage Licensing and Collaboration deals.

We have developed and marketed a novel polysaccharide product from the marine microalga Prasinococcus capsulatus. The product is used in cosmetic products, healthcare products, and is being developed as a sugar replacement for use in confectionary. We continue to develop new polysaccharides for healthcare application. We are working on microalgae, cyanobacteria, and macroalgae products. Our covers all aspects of discovery and development of novel polysaccharides.

What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years?

The biggest challenges we face are associated with product yield and production scale-up.

How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?

Increase yield by manipulation of transport processes involved in growth of photosynthetic organisms and production of polysaccharide products.

You can contact Charles at Charlie@glycomar.com.

Biosynthesis of the antibiotic nonribosomal peptide penicillin in baker’s yeast

Biosynthesis of the antibiotic nonribosomal peptide penicillin in baker’s yeast

Fungi are a valuable source of enzymatic diversity and therapeutic natural products including antibiotics. Here we engineer the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to produce and secrete the antibiotic penicillin, a beta-lactam nonribosomal peptide, by taking genes from a filamentous fungus and directing their efficient expression and subcellular localization. Using synthetic biology tools combined with long-read DNA sequencing, we optimize productivity by 50-fold to produce bioactive yields that allow spent S. cerevisiae growth media to have antibacterial action against Streptococcus bacteria. This work demonstrates that S. cerevisiae can be engineered to perform the complex biosynthesis of multicellular fungi, opening up the possibility of using yeast to accelerate rational engineering of nonribosomal peptide antibiotics.

Read the full article here.

Whole-cell biocatalysts by design

Whole-cell biocatalysts by design

Whole-cell biocatalysts provide unique advantages and have been widely used for the efficient biosynthesis of value-added fine and bulk chemicals, as well as pharmaceutically active ingredients. What is more, advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, together with the rapid development of molecular genetic tools, have brought about a renaissance of whole-cell biocatalysis. These rapid advancements mean that whole-cell biocatalysts can increasingly be rationally designed. Genes of heterologous enzymes or synthetic pathways are increasingly being introduced into microbial hosts, and depending on the complexity of the synthetic pathway or the target products, they can enable the production of value-added chemicals from cheap feedstock. Metabolic engineering and synthetic biology efforts aimed at optimizing the existing microbial cell factories concentrate on improving heterologous pathway flux, precursor supply, and cofactor balance, as well as other aspects of cellular metabolism, to enhance the efficiency of biocatalysts. In the present review, we take a critical look at recent developments in whole-cell biocatalysis, with an emphasis on strategies applied to designing and optimizing the organisms that are increasingly modified for efficient production of chemicals.

Read the full article here.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT GENE TECH: CBMNet Management Board Member Prof Susan Molyneux Hodgson

 

CBMNet Management Board Member Professor Susan Molyneux Hodgson spoke at the Hay Litery festival last night in the session ‘We Need to talk about Gene Tech’.

Why does public debate and policy treat the application of genetic technology differently when we are discussing medicine and food? Why is our concept of what is ‘natural’ so controversial and the idea of GM food so alarming? Scientists and sociologists come together with Daniel Davis to discuss what’s being ventured and how it is perceived.

 

CBMNet Proof-of-Concept and Vacation Scholarship projects awarded

CBMNet Proof-of-Concept and Vacation Scholarship projects awarded

Following on from our latest Proof-of-Concept and Vacation Scholarship funding calls we are pleased to announce that we have funded 6 projects.


Proof-of-Concept: Newcastle University and Ingenza – L-form technologies: a novel platform for therapeutic protein production.

Many human proteins are used for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases and many more have the potential to be developed as drugs if they can be produced in sufficient quantities. To avoid contamination with agents (prions and viruses) that can cause serious diseases, these proteins are produced in bacterial or animal cells, rather than extraction from human tissue. There is therefore a need to produce sufficient amounts of novel human proteins for preliminary analyses and, if see to have therapeutic potential, for clinical trials. Production systems based on the bacterium, Escherichia coli, is the first choice system for producing such proteins. However, about one third of all human proteins are not capable of being synthesised in E. coli production systems and alternative systems have to be used. This particularly applied to proteins that are secreted from human cells and that have disulphide bonds in their final structure. Disulphide bonds are formed after synthesis and secretion from the cell and involve the formation of bonds between two amino acid residues (cysteine) in the protein. The collaboration between Newcastle University and Ingenza is aimed at relieving known bottlenecks in the production of therapeutic proteins by using a bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, that can be switched to a wall-less state that removes a major bottleneck to protein secretion. The project involves generating such strains and evaluating their performance under commercial biomanufacturing conditions. If successful, the strains could expand the range of therapeutic proteins available for the treatment of specific diseases.


 

Proof-of-Concept: University of Sheffield and Excivion – Viral antigen production for diagnosis and vaccine-mediated disease prevention by rational glycoengineering-mediated protein secretion in a mammalian cell factory.

The global incidence of mosquito-borne flavivirus induced disease such as dengue has increased exponentially over the last four decades. Fuelled by conditioning factors such as rapid urbanisation, demographic change, large-scale migration, and travel, dengue is now endemic in most countries of the tropics, and about 925 million people now live in urban areas that are at high risk of dengue infection. More recently Zika, another mosquito-borne virus, has been implicated in the causation of microcephaly in infants, and encephalitis in adults. In conjunction with concerns about expanding mosquito habitats, and global movement of humans on significant scales, there is a compelling need to find new solutions for the prevention this family of diseases, as well as diagnoses of extent and type of exposure, as this information has significant implications for subsequent treatment and strategies for prevention. A particular challenge in this family of diseases concerns the fact that while initial exposure gives rise to mild disease, subsequent exposure to other related viral strains can result in severe illness and death, as a consequence of known mechanisms associated with the immune system, which act to make the disease symptoms considerably worse. It follows that both specific diagnosis and new vaccine designs will be required to control these diseases effectively. This project aims to exploit specific cell factories, together with our understanding of key protein structures in flaviviruses, to generate novel non–natural proteins which will have the capability both of enabling strain-specific diagnosis, as well as inducing protection in vaccination programs of carefully screened individuals, without predisposing to haemorrhagic fever (which is a recognised risk for existing vaccine designs).


Vacation Scholarship: University of Kent – Functional characterisation of a putative succinate efflux pump from Corynebacterium glutamicum.

Succinate is a key precursor in the production of biodegradable plastics and fabrics. The majority of industrially produced succinate is derived from petrochemical precursors. However, several microbial species have been engineered to maximise succinate production during fermentation. A succinate efflux pump, SucE, was recently identified in C. glutamicum, which substantially increases succinate production when overexpressed. However, the structure, mechanism, energetics and substrate specificity of this transporter remain unknown. A comprehensive understanding of SucE’s transport mechanism could allow us to manipulate this transporter and/or it’s energy source to make succinate (and possibly other dicarboxylic acid) efflux more efficient, potentially increasing the succinate yield of C. glutamicum. This project fits perfectly within the remit of CBMNet as it is centred on understanding how an industrially important chemical is transported across the bacterial membrane. The aims of this project are to; 1) clone sucE from C. glutamicum into an E. coli expression vector, 2) optimise the expression and purification conditions, 3) assay SucE function using in vivo succinate accumulation assays, and 4) reconstitute SucE into liposomes for in vitro transport assays.


Vacation Scholarship: University of Leeds – Durable vesicles for stabilisation of membrane proteins in biotechnology

Hybrid vesicles, which combine the biofunctionality of phospholipids with the stability of block copolymer membranes, can enhance the functional durability of membrane proteins. We have demonstrated that hybrid vesicles extend the functional half-life of cytochrome bo3 from 1-2 weeks in proteoliposomes to 4-6 months in hybrids (Chem. Commun. 52, 11020, 2016). The student will aim to:
1. Successfully reproduce functional reconstitution of cytochrome bo3 into hybrid vesicles (training).
2. Characterise proton pumping by cytochrome bo3 in hybrid vesicles using a pH-sensitive fluorophore.
3. Test whether (i) using a different triblock copolymer, or (ii) protein reconstitution using SMALPs has advantages over our existing materials and protocols.
4. (If time permits) co-reconstitute cytochrome bo3 with F-ATPase to create a proto-organelle to generate ATP.


Vacation Scholarship: University of Nottingham – Purification of membrane transporters to identify topology and binding sites by mass spectrometry.

Multidrug (MDR) pump show an unusually broad substrate specificity, which is poorly understood. This lack of knowledge undermines their potential use in IBBE applications where this polyspecitify may be harnessed in engineered microorganisms. Our group has an excellent track record in working with MDR pumps and now wish to harness recent advances in protein labelling and mass spectrometry (MS) to see if we can map the polyspecific binding sites of MDR pumps using MS.


Vacation Scholarship: University of Kent – Vitamin B12 into yeast.

We will determine if Saccharomyces cerevisiae can transport vitamin B12 (cobalamin) into the cell. A recent paper concerning the production of butanol isomers suggests that this is possible (see Curr Opin Biol 2015, 33: 1-7) but we would like to provide definitive evidence and quantify the levels of cobalamin that can be accumulated. We will investigate the ability of S. cerevisiae to absorb B12 using two complementary approaches. Firstly, we will grow the yeast in the presence of a range of different concentrations of vitamin B12. After growth, the cells will be thoroughly washed and then lysed. The supernatant from the lysed cells will then be applied to a very sensitive B12-dependent microbial plate assay. This will allow the student to compare B12 uptake against external concentrations of added B12. Secondly, we have made a number of B12 fluorophores, whereby we have attached a fluorophore to the B12 mainframe. These fluorescent probes are taken up by bacteria, algae and worms. With our new confocal microscope system we will be able to follow the movement and accumulation of the fluorophore within the S. cerevisiae also.

 

Large scale validation of an efficient CRISPR/Cas-based multi gene editing protocol in Escherichia coli

Large scale validation of an efficient CRISPR/Cas-based multi gene editing protocol in Escherichia coli

The exploitation of the CRISPR/Cas9 machinery coupled to lambda (λ) recombinase-mediated homologous recombination (recombineering) is becoming the method of choice for genome editing in E. coli. First proposed by Jiang and co-workers, the strategy has been subsequently fine-tuned by several authors who demonstrated, by using few selected loci, that the efficiency of mutagenesis (number of mutant colonies over total number of colonies analyzed) can be extremely high (up to 100%). However, from published data it is difficult to appreciate the robustness of the technology, defined as the number of successfully mutated loci over the total number of targeted loci. This information is particularly relevant in high-throughput genome editing, where repetition of experiments to rescue missing mutants would be impractical. This work describes a “brute force” validation activity, which culminated in the definition of a robust, simple and rapid protocol for single or multiple gene deletions.

Read the full article here.

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