The University of Manchester’s, Synthetic Biology Research Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM), funded by BBSRC/EPSRC aims to develop new faster, more predictable and reliable “greener” routes to fine and speciality chemicals production. The Centre will provide tools, technology platforms and SynBio ‘know-how’ to drive academic discovery and translate new knowledge and processes towards industrial exploitation. The technology will lead to new products and methods for drug development, such as new antibiotics, and agricultural chemicals and new materials for sustainable manufacturing.

The Centre has developed a series of unique and highly integrated interdisciplinary technology platforms and a truly world-leading physical infrastructure for contemporary fine and speciality chemicals production. Our multiple science programs will deliver bespoke SynBio solutions for chemicals synthesis by adopting modular “plug and play” platform approaches and a production pipeline that embraces the “design-build-test-deploy” life-cycle.

The emerging societal, ethical, and regulatory challenges (Responsible Research and Innovation, RRI) associated with this rapidly advancing new technology are addressed in close interaction with social scientists and economists across The University of Manchester and involve a variety of stakeholders and publics to consider the potential future benefits and risks of our research.

The Centre opened in November 2014. In Year 1 we established our laboratories within the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, recruited a very talented pool of Senior Experimental Officers and began to optimise our component technology platforms. In Year 2 we have successfully optimised these platforms and integrated these components to form a cohesive Design/Build/Test pipeline for fine and speciality chemicals synthesis. The integrated SYNBIOCHEM pipeline has been piloted in a series of grand challenge core projects for important chemical targets. In 2016 the Centre’s priority was to test and deliver a functionally integrated SYNBIOCHEM pipeline for fine and speciality chemicals synthesis and to strengthen longer-term sustainable development of the Centre. In addition to these priorities the Centre has: 1) begun to build major SynBio capacity for new (bio)materials discovery and production; 2) continued to foster collaborations that unite interdisciplinary scientists and industrial partners both nationally and internationally; and 3) implemented strategies to engage with, train and inspire the next generation of research leaders in SynBio and wider publics.