Synthetic Biology: Engineering Complex Biological Systems (EuroSYNBIO)

Synthetic Biology in Europe

A film showing current developments in the field featuring the five EuroSYNBIO research projects.

Background and Objectives

Synthetic biology is the rational (re-)design of biological systems with useful properties. It is a highly interdisciplinary endeavour (Figure 1) and can be viewed from two angles: First, the engineering perspective, which entertains the hope of transforming biotechnology into a true engineering discipline with the corresponding reliabilities and accuracies in design.

Second, the synthetic focus provides a unique tool for confirming or challenging our current understanding of molecular events and system function, because only if we can reliably rebuild cellular properties can we claim intellectual mastership (“What I cannot build, I cannot understand”, R. Feynman).

Both these aspects of synthetic biology, transforming bioengineering and advancing understanding through synthesis, need to undergo a fundamental transition to be able to tackle systems-level questions. This transformation will happen on two fronts: First, there is the need to transform existing and develop novel computational tools that allow taking our current computational procedures from the analysis of single items to the systems level. Second, it is necessary to support the computational change-of-scope with the same change in our workflows towards the “biosystems design laboratory”.

The final element in this transition is the societal context, as synthetic biology needs to be aware of and effectively manage its societal impact. Therefore, the societal context will be integrated in its various forms from an early stage of the scientific and engineering endeavour, bearing in mind that it might be a vital element in successfully guiding the future development of synthetic biology.

 The first achievements in synthetic biology include the design and implementation of synthetic genetic circuits, the design of novel biochemical pathways for the production of valuable pharmaceuticals, and the de novo synthesis of bacterial genomes. The ultimate ambition of the field is to extend the mastery of biological engineering to systems complex enough to deal with grand challenges such as the design, synthesis and delivery of novel therapeutic treatments, affordable and precise diagnosis of diseases, novel routes to vaccines, production of liquid transportation fuels, bioremediation of pollutants, biocompatible carbon sequestration, and efficient manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and biochemicals.

Figure 1. The highly interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology
The highly interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology

Development of the EuroSYNBIO programme

Following agreement with funding organisations in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the European Science Foundation launched a Call for FullProposals for Collaborative Research Projects (CRPs) to be undertaken within the EUROCORES Programme EuroSYNBIO.
EuroSYNBIO will run for 3 years and it includes national research funding, as well as support for networking and dissemination activities provided through the ESF. The programme aims to support high-quality multidisciplinary research.  

Review procedure:

  • The Call for Outline Proposals was launched on 22 December 2008 (amendment).
  • By the deadline of 6 March 2009, 24 Outline Proposals were received.
  • At the EuroSYNBIO Review Panel Sifting meeting on 6-7 April 2009, 16 Outline Proposals were invited to submit a Full Proposal.
  • By the deadline of 16 June 2009, 16 Full Proposals were received.
  • All Full Proposals were externally peer reviewed before the EuroSYNBIO Review Panel Ranking meeting on 14-15 Sept. 2009.
  • The results were then given to the participating National Funding Agencies for final decision on funding.
  • 5 Full Proposals were granted funding.