Macquarie University to lead nation in synthetic biology research with $2.5m grant

20 February 2019

Research into new technologies that could pioneer breakthroughs in the biomedical and agriculture sectors has received a significant boost, with the NSW Government investing $2.5 million to support the establishment of a synthetic biology ‘Biofoundry’ at Macquarie University.

Synthetic biology is an emerging multidisciplinary field of science which involves the deliberate design and manufacture of new biological structures, parts, devices and systems. These become the key components in a number of potentially revolutionary applications. This new field draws on biology, biochemistry, engineering, biophysics and computer science.

Professor Isak (Sakkie) Pretorius, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research at Macquarie University said this funding announcement will greatly support and extend Macquarie’s research capability in synthetic biology.

“Macquarie University brought the field of synthetic genomics to Australia and is a recognised global leader in synthetic biology research,” said Professor Pretorius.

“As the only Australian university in the international Yeast 2.0 consortium, we have united some of the best minds in biology, engineering, computer science, social sciences and business. We recently announced that the researchers within the Consortium had successfully synthesised all sixteen chromosomes of a yeast organism. The synthetic chromosomes are currently being tested for functionality before they will be consolidated in a single yeast cell. Such a yeast cell – powered by a synthetic genome – will be a world first that has repercussions for human health and environmental sustainability. Moving forward, Macquarie is ideally placed in Australia to lead large-scale collaborative projects in this area, including the discovery and development of biosensors, bioenergy, biodegradable pesticides, ‘next generation’ antibiotics and vaccines, personalised medicine and gene therapies.”

Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello said the technology offers truly exciting potential applications, particularly in the biomedical and agricultural domains.

“Synthetic biology could enable the creation of new biological structures to help in the treatment of genetic or infectious diseases, the production and delivery of novel vaccines and antibiotics, the development of highly productive, resilient crops and biologically produced biodegradable pesticides that are gentle on the environment,” Mr Dominello said.

“It may lead to sources of bioenergy that can safely replace fossil fuels. The technology also has the potential to break down unwanted materials or chemicals for waste management or the remediation of contaminated environments.”

Macquarie University possesses Australia’s leading capabilities in synthetic biology and its work, in collaboration with the NSW Department of Industry on the Yeast 2.0 International Project, has already seen it accepted into the group of 13 internationally recognised biofoundries known as the Synthetic Biology BioFoundry Network, despite not yet being a fully resourced facility.

“This funding will accelerate the progress of Macquarie University’s biofoundry and greatly enhance its research capability. It will become a flagship facility for Macquarie University and a resource for other universities and research organisations in New South Wales,” Mr Dominello said.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte said: “In the US and Europe, this technology is already approaching commercial reality.”

“It’s been projected that the economic impact of synthetic biology technology in the agricultural, healthcare, biofuels and chemicals sectors alone could be between

US$700 billion to US$6 trillion per year by 2025. Supporting technical infrastructure like this biofoundry will ensure that NSW is well placed to gain some of this economic benefit.”

The funding is provided through the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program.

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