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Report calls for backing for synthetic biology

The Royal Academy of Engineering is calling for greater backing for the UK's synthetic biology industries

The Royal Academy of Engineering is calling for greater backing for the UK's synthetic biology industries in the report, 'Synthetic Biology: scope, applications and implications'. The report covers the current status and future for this growing industry, identifying the next steps to build on the UK's position in the field, create a regulatory framework and to explore, with the public, the ethical and societal issues involved. Its authors stress that the sector must not be left behind the US and other European and Far Eastern countries, which are already investing heavily.

The report cites several health-related applications for synthetic biology, including the development of biological advanced biosensors that could be inserted into the body to monitor patients' health or detect types of cancer. Biosensors are currently being developed that can detect urinary tract infections (UTI). When they come into contact with a UTI, a response is triggered in one of the constituent proteins, which fluoresces. Because systematic engineering principles have been used in the design of the technology, the sensor could be readily adapted to detect other pathogens, such as MRSA.

Over the next five years, it is likely that a new version of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, developed using synthetic biology techniques, will go into large-scale industrial production, impacting malaria worldwide.

UK Chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced in April's Budget the provision of a £750m Strategic Investment Fund to help emerging industries. It appears that the government is willing to assist the development of these new applications and can see the potential for wealth generation they present.

6th May 2009

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