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GM, synthetic biology and genome editing

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BBSRC invests in biotechnology research. This briefing outlines our approach to and position on these technologies.

Genetic modification

Genetic modification (GM) tools and techniques are used to change the genetic code of plants, animals or microbes. BBSRC invests in research that uses GM for two broad purposes. A large part of the research is aimed at uncovering fundamental understanding about the biology of living organisms. Other research has more specific goals such as improving crops or livestock or producing medicines or other chemicals from microbes.

BBSRC's position on GM research in crops and other plants (PDF 28KB)

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Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology applies engineering principles to biology. It seeks to create or design new biological systems, devices or parts that can perform useful functions.

UK is a world leader in multidisciplinary synthetic biology research. Find out which research areas BBSRC supports, and why, on the Synthetic biology page in the Funding section.

Synthetic biology, like many emerging technologies, can raise social and ethical concerns. BBSRC has worked with academics, policy makers, the public and other stakeholders to discuss and consider these issues.

  • BBSRC and EPSRC ran a public dialogue on synthetic biology in 2010. For the background, findings and recommendations, see Synthetic biology dialogue
  • We collaborated with Forum for the Future and Friends of the Earth (EWNI) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in 2015 to support open dialogue and reflection around synthetic biology. For information about this project, visit the Synthetic biology – opening up the conversation page

We encourage those we fund to consider and reflect on the implications of the science they are working on. For instance, the Synthetic Biology Research Centres have embedded programmes to support responsible research and innovation.

Genome editing

Genome editing is a molecular biology technique that allows targeted mutations to be introduced into an organism’s DNA. There are a raft of technologies which are broadly grouped together as genome editing. Genome editing is seen as a step-change in molecular biology due to its relative ease and rapidity of application.

BBSRC invests in genome editing research for a number of reasons including to understand fundamental biology and to explore modifying crops, animals or microbes to be more useful.

For BBSRC’s position on specific uses of genome editing, see:

  • News: Genome-editing position statement
    Initial joint statement from BBSRC and other research funders in support of the continued use of genome-editing techniques in preclinical research