National Science Foundation is investing $17 million over the next five years to open the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC):
Five MIT researchers are among the pioneers behind a new research center in synthetic biology, a precocious field whose primary long-term goal is to make it easier to design and build useful organisms.
Current work includes refining pieces of DNA into standard biological parts that researchers could then mix and match to produce novel biological systems — such as bacteria that synthesize rare cancer drugs — and also fostering the responsible development and application of next-generation biological technologies…
In addition to MIT, participating universities are the University of California at Berkeley; Harvard University; University of California at San Francisco; and Prairie View A&M University. Matching funds from industry and these universities bring the total five-year commitment to $20 million, with NSF offering the possibility of a five-year extension of the grant. The center is managed via the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research and directed by Professor Jay Keasling of UC Berkeley. The work of the center will be distributed, with major nodes in Cambridge and in San Francisco.
“SynBERC is the first time we’ve had long-term support to improve the technical foundations that underlie the engineering of biology,” said Andrew D. Endy, an assistant professor in MIT’s Division of Biological Engineering and a co-investigator in the new center.
SynBERC will build on 10 years of synthetic biology research. Most notably for MIT, the center will allow expanded support for the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, a worldwide resource started in 2003 to promote the framework of interchangeable biological parts, or BioBricks, pioneered by Thomas F. Knight Jr., another SynBERC investigator and senior research scientist in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
The registry aims to promote synthetic biology in the same way that the adoption of a uniform system of screw threads in the 1860s made it easier to build machines, and the simplification of integrated electronic circuit design in the 1970s paved the way for today’s microprocessors.
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