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Illinois IGB

Global Biofoundry Consortium embraces grand challenge

May 6, 2016
By: Claudia Lutz.

Synthetic biology has emerged from the intersection of engineering and biology, with its emphasis on standardization, modularization and automation. The newly established Global Biofoundry Consortium, led by University of Illinois Professor Huimin Zhao, is investing in the systematized approach of engineering to touch off the next wave of biological discovery and innovation.

The consortium, whose founding members include the University of Illinois, Boston University, the University of Manchester, Tianjin University, the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and corporate partner Thermo Fisher Scientific, held its inaugural meeting on April 15. Participants gathered at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) at Illinois to develop a strategic plan to achieve the consortium’s central aim: to develop biofoundries for accelerated biological engineering and fundamental research.

“I expect that this consortium will grow rapidly in the near future,” Zhao said, “because many universities and companies have established, are establishing or will establish biofoundries for various biotechnological applications.” Zhao, who is Steven L. Miller Chair Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, also leads a synthetic biology center at the IGB.

Biological foundries like the one Zhao and his colleagues have established at Illinois combine cutting-edge robotics, standardized parts and protocols, and computational methods; the resulting experimental platform makes it possible to perform automated engineering at the DNA, protein, pathway and genome levels on a massive scale.

“We were honored to host the inaugural meeting of this important consortium,” said IGB Director Gene Robinson. “Synthetic biology holds great promise to help address some of the most important problems in health, agriculture, energy, and the environment, and we are very excited about its prospects for advancement, at the IGB and with the consortium partners throughout the world.”

May 6, 2016
By: Claudia Lutz.
Photos By: L. Brian Stauffer.

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