The Australian Research Council (ARC) has announced that a consortium centred around Macquarie University’s Biofoundry will receive $35m in funding to create a new ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology (CoESB) from 2020.
Macquarie University is Australia’s leader in synthetic biology and its work on the international Yeast 2.0 Project, in collaboration with the NSW Department of Industry, has already seen it accepted into the group of 13 internationally recognised biofoundries known as the Synthetic Biology BioFoundry Network. The new Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology will take this leading role to new levels.
The Centre is an international collaboration between seven Australian universities and 25 partners and is one of the largest combined efforts in synthetic biology in the world.
The Centre, led by ARC Laureate Fellow Macquarie University’s Distinguished Professor Ian Paulsen, will provide the technical innovation that will enable Australia to develop a vibrant bioeconomy built on the country’s strong agricultural sector.
The Centre of Excellence will combine engineering with molecular biology to design and construct innovative biological systems that can convert biomass from agriculture or waste streams to biofuel, biodegradable pesticides, bioplastics and other high-value chemicals.
These novel microbial cell factories will underpin an environmentally sustainable advanced biomanufacturing industry in Australia. This will in turn lead to significant rural investment, increased employment, and new export opportunities.
In addition, the Centre will train the next generation of synthetic biologists, fully conversant with industrial translation, and capable of establishing the Australian bioeconomy start-up companies of the future.
Macquarie’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Professor Isak (Sakkie) Pretorius, welcomed the announcement, saying, “Macquarie University brought the field of synthetic genomics to Australia and is a recognised global leader in synthetic biology research.
“As the only Australian university in the international Yeast 2.0 consortium, we have united some of the best minds in biology, engineering, computer science, social sciences and business. With the new Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, Macquarie is ideally placed to lead large-scale collaborative projects in this area, including the discovery and development of biosensors, bioenergy, biodegradable pesticides, ‘next generation’ antibiotics and vaccines, personalised medicine and gene therapies.”
Synthetic biology can be described as a newly emerging field in which rapid advancements in techniques for high-throughput DNA sequencing (reading) and DNA synthesis (writing and editing) are enabling the design and construction of new biological parts (genes), devices (gene networks) and modules (biosynthetic pathways), and the redesign of biological systems (cells and organisms).
In addition to advances in the agricultural sector, this Centre of Excellence will help advanced technologies in new personalized medicines, help ensure a future of adequate and nutritious foods, provide us with biodegradable pesticides that are environmentally friendly and can help fuel the soil for future plant growth, help us find more sustainable fuels for our everyday lives.
The Centre of Excellence will combine expertise from science and medicine with the humanities and social sciences to create real-world solutions to some of our greatest problems.
Critically for Australia, this Centre of excellence will provide the next generation with scientific innovations to continue to fuel the Australian economy.