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U.K. science minister applauds Concordia’s “bold, strategic” support of synthetic biology

Interdisciplinary academics met with David Willetts to promote international collaboration
February 12, 2014
By Josh Hawley

U.K. science minister David Willetts at the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology at Concordia
David Willetts at Concordia: "It's great to see what's going on in synthetic biology here." | All photos by Concordia University

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science in the United Kingdom, joined president Alan Shepard and key Concordia academics for a visit to the university's groundbreaking synthetic biology research centre on February 11.

The aim was to explore potential collaborations between the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology (CASB) and research labs in the U.K. Willetts was accompanied by renowned chemist Martyn Poliakoff, of the University of Nottingham, and Mary Bownes, senior vice principal of external engagement at the University of Edinburgh.

“It's great to see what's going on in synthetic biology here,” Willetts said. “We're certainly investing strongly in synthetic biology in the U.K., so it will be great if the Concordia unit could co-operate more closely with the units we've got in Nottingham, London, Bristol and Edinburgh. There's clearly a significant investment here, and I think the university's making a very bold, strategic decision that synthetic biology is something they want to back.”

Vincent Martin, Graham Carr, Alan Shepard, David Willetts, Martyn Poliakoff and Mary Bownes at Concordia's Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology
From left: Vincent Martin, Graham Carr, Alan Shepard, David Willetts, Martyn Poliakoff and Mary Bownes

The CASB — Canada’s first dedicated research centre — is leading the way. Its open-concept, state-of-the-art labs on the Loyola Campus are designed to foster interaction biologists, engineers, computer scientists and social scientists. Together, they develop tools and technologies with practical applications in environmental and health management.

Vincent Martin, CASB co-director and Canada Research Chair in Microbiology Genomics and Engineering, hopes the country will involve itself in international synthetic biology efforts. “We need to get out there and play with the big boys.”

Martin is the lead on CASB's largest project, PhytoMetaSyn: a five-year, $13-million initiative to produce valuable metabolites by modifying the pathways in baker's yeast with genes from other plants.

Concordia is participating in iGEM, the international genetically engineered machine competition. Follow the 2014 iGEM team.

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