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£35M to support research for vital industrial sector

£35M to support research for vital industrial sector - 23 January 2013. Zoonar. Thinkstock.

In a speech later today, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, will announce £35M funding to boost research in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy. The funding, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will create networks and collaborative research between academia and industry offering a channel for sustainable economic growth for the UK and new 'green collar' jobs.

The funding will create two new schemes to develop the UK's industrial biotechnology and bioenergy research community (including biopharmaceuticals and biorenewables) and to support the translation of new ideas into commercial applications. The new schemes form the central part of BBSRC's strategy to support the development of industrial biotechnology and bioenergy (IBBE) as a key component of the UK bioeconomy.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Industrial biotechnology is a very promising area of science that could provide greener solutions for many important sectors, like manufacturing and life sciences. Through investing in research and working with industry we can harness the UK's expertise in this area to drive growth and create jobs."

Industrial biotechnology is the harnessing of bio-based inputs for the production of industrially useful products on a large scale. It offers novel solutions through the use of plants, bacteria, algae and fungi as non-fossil sources that will benefit many UK industry sectors including chemicals, renewable energy, materials, and health.

BBSRC's new strategy in IBBE will support both networking activities and investment in major application-focused integrated research projects.

The first phase is a competition for Networks, aimed at both emerging and established areas of importance to IBBE. BBSRC has committed up to £15M to foster collaboration between academic researchers and business at all levels, in order to find new approaches to tackle research challenges. The Networks will work across the boundaries of biology, chemistry and engineering. They also encourage the participation of other disciplines including mathematics, computational modelling, environmental science, economics and social science.

The second phase of the strategy will be launched in 2014 with £20M to support major integrated research projects in IBBE derived from the networking activities and involving the academic and business communities.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director, Innovation and Skills, said: "Investing in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy research has the potential to generate significant returns. World-class research exists within the UK and these schemes will do more to achieve its full potential for industry, economic growth and society as a whole. The bioeconomy is worth trillions globally and could bring major benefits to the UK and create thousands of jobs in the coming years. These benefits offer a sustainable and 'green' future with more efficient manufacturing, of biopharmaceuticals for example, and a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable foundations.'

"Through these schemes we are seeking to energise the UK industrial biotechnology and bioenergy community and to support the building of strong research networks, industry-academic collaborations and new ideas that can be funded through to the brink of commercial application. This will ensure that emerging areas of bioscience are fully integrated into the industrial biotechnology arena."

The funding is being announced at the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF) showcase event at Church House Conference Centre, London.

The schemes will be live from 24 January 2013 at: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/IBnetworks

ENDS

Notes to editors

BBSRC-funded Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy case studies:

Low-carbon fuel, Professor Minton, University of Nottingham.
Researchers are working to maximize the use of sustainable forms of energy by harnessing the ability of certain bacteria to 'consume' the gas carbon monoxide (CO) and convert it into useful chemicals and fuels.

CO is an abundant resource, and a waste product of steel manufacturing, oil refining and other industries. If we can use this CO to provide more sustainable energy, it would also result in a reduction in fossil carbon emissions.

Some routes to biofuel generation through biological systems have relied on conversion of plant materials, such as sugars and starch. This has led to concerns over competition with use of these products as food, and a refocusing of efforts on so-called 'second generation' biofuels.

The researchers will gain a better understanding of how the biofuel-producing 'Clostridium ljungdahlii' functions and use synthetic biology approaches to broaden and extend product streams in an industrialized setting, without the need to consume valuable food or land resources.

Synthetic micro-organisms to develop industrial biocatalysts, Professor Turner, the University of Manchester.
During the next 10-20 years, the chemical industry around the world will undergo a major transformation. As we move from oil-based starting materials to those derived from biomass.

Biotechnology-based processes are therefore needed to convert inexpensive raw materials efficiently to high-value products. Industrial Biotechnology involves the use of nature's catalysts, known as enzymes, for the production of chemicals and related products.

This research will help to rationally design and construct engineered biocatalysts and pathways that are capable of the efficient and robust conversion of low-cost renewable feedstocks (e.g. cellulose, lipids, waste biomass) to high value end products.

The researchers will develop a new approach to engineering robust biocatalysts by mimicking the process of evolution in the laboratory. This new platform technology will enable the optimisation of enzymes for industrial applications in a matter of weeks rather than the months which it currently takes.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .