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Synthetic Biology

Theme 2022

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our times, with tremendous threat to the sustainability of humankind and ecosystems worldwide. Enormous reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are essential to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees. As burning of fossil fuels and food production are the major contributors to global warming, there is an urgent need to reconsider today’s traditional structures and practices for energy and food production.

Synthetic Biology is a multidisciplinary field that is expected to provide novel, sustainable solutions to global manufacturing, healthcare and agriculture. It involves application of engineering principles to life sciences to build new biological systems or re-design existing ones for production of a wide range of useful products. In synthetic biology, a broad range of disciplines, such as genetic engineering, metabolic engineering, mathematics, computational modelling, automation and robotics, machine learning, gene- and genome editing, among others, are combined to make the biological systems predictable and efficient. At the same time, aligning technological development with humanities, regulatory, legal and ethical considerations is required for acceptance and introduction of new technologies for tackling societal challenges.

The Theme will analyse a variety of challenges (technical, economical, regulatory, legal, social, infrastructural, as well as scalability) connected to the technology and recommend strategies for surpassing them in a manner that allows the full realisation of the potential of synthetic biology to meet the climate crisis. The Theme will also develop case studies to analyse the inherent research and development challenges on the production and implementation of engineered, predictable and scalable biological systems for production of fuels, chemicals and materials, and foods, with a potentially significant impact on addressing the climate crisis. Simultaneously it will provide a forum for discussions on political and legal issues related to large-scale implementation of synthetic biology and engineering of microorganisms.

The Theme will explore the following research topics:

  • Identification of target non-fossil fuel and chemical products, and foods for which the Synthetic Biology approaches will provide the most impact on addressing the climate crisis
  • Designing of engineered biological systems for scalability
  • Finding the best ways to use mathematical modelling, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation in Synthetic Biology, and
  • Implementation and acceptance of large-scale Synthetic Biology.

About the team

The Theme gathers an interdisciplinary team of researchers representing expertise in biotechnology, gene editing, mathematics, computational sciences, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, political science, and law. The combination of expertise will provide a sound base for addressing the multifaceted character of Synthetic Biology and its challenges. To further enrich the work of the Theme, researchers from other universities will be invited as speakers, to participate in workshops, and as guest researchers.