UK Government announces £2bn engineering biology strategy

The UK Government has revealed a new £2bn strategy to position the nation as a global leader in engineering biology.

The national vision for engineering biology will help revolutionise how the UK grows food sustainably, develops medical treatments, and pioneers new fuels.

The announcement adds to the £100m invested into the technology through UK Research and Innovation’s Synthetic Biology for Growth programme. 

Commenting on the strategy, Michelle Donelan, the UK Science Secretary, said: “Engineering Biology has the potential to redefine our world in ways that were previously unimaginable.

“Today’s £2bn commitment not only reflects our determination to push the boundaries of what UK science can achieve, from transforming medicine to tackling climate change but also champions the five critical technologies that will define our future.

“Our vision will solidify the UK’s global leadership in safe and responsible engineering biology development. Through ongoing investments in transformative technologies, we are not just building a stronger economy; we are fostering job creation and bettering lives across the nation.”

What is engineering biology?

Engineering biology is a multidisciplinary field merging biology and engineering principles. It involves manipulating biological systems, DNA, cells, and organisms to design and create new biological functions, systems, or products.

This discipline utilises genetic engineering, molecular biology, and computational tools to modify and engineer living organisms for various purposes, such as creating sustainable materials, developing new medicines, improving crop yields, and producing biofuels.

By reprogramming the genetic code of living organisms, engineering biology aims to solve real-world problems, innovate in healthcare, agriculture, and industry, and pave the way for groundbreaking advancements with ethical considerations at the forefront.

Through leveraging this cutting-edge practice, multiple breakthroughs have been made, such as the life-saving mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Minister for Science, Innovation and Research Andrew Griffith added: “Engineering biology is, in many ways, the future of science: using engineering to harness the power of nature to overhaul what is possible – from the treatment of disease to how we sustainably produce food and fuel.

“I am determined to ensure that the UK remains at the cutting edge of this exciting field. This £2bn vision sets out how we will bring all the levers of investment, policy and regulation to bear in ensuring that, safely and responsibly, we seize the potential for engineering biology breakthroughs to boost our economy, create jobs, and improve everyone’s quality of life.”

Aims of the new strategy

The engineering biology vision outlines six priorities to position the UK as a global leader in this innovative technology.

To achieve this, the government is launching an Engineering Biology Steering Group that will combine policymakers, business leaders, and innovators in the sector to help drive the UK’s vision.

The £2bn funding will be invested over the next ten years, with the government targeting public investment in engineering biology R&D to accelerate breakthroughs and new products.

It will also invest in UK infrastructure to reduce costs of the early stages of projects and their scale-up, with a plan set to be published in 2024 to support this.

The nation’s talent pool is also an essential area of the strategy, with the government looking to grow and retain UK experts by investing in fellowships and doctoral training.

Helping products to reach the market in record time is another aspect of the strategy, with the government utilising the new Engineering Biology Regulators’ Network to implement a series of regulatory sandboxes to create pathways for this to take place.

Additionally, the government will collaborate with investors and customers to drive the adoption of engineering biology in the wider economy.

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