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A boost for synthetic biology research at Concordia

The Canada Foundation for Innovation funds a project to improve biofuel and vaccine production workflows
February 28, 2017
By Renée Dunk

On February 28, a pair of researchers from Concordia’s Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology got big news from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund has awarded $100,000 to professors David Kwan and Steve Shih. The CFI grant provides top researchers in the country with the foundational infrastructure required to be leaders in their field.

The infrastructure project has a total value of about $250,000. Shih and Kwan were also awarded an additional $100,000 from the Province of Quebec, with an extra $50,000 coming from other funding sources.

With this support, Kwan and Shih will be able to start integrating robotics into their workflow. Their goal? To reduce the time it takes to produce a range of products, such as biofuels and vaccines.

The suite of automation tools they’re developing courtesy of the CFI grant will complement existing state-of-the-art research facilities at Concordia, says Kwan, an assistant professor of biology in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

David Kwan | Photo by David Ward David Kwan | Photo by David Ward

Both the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology and the Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics — where Kwan also works — will gain new infrastructure, and the funding will support the integrated research of their respective teams.

“Synthetic biology focuses on creating technologies for designing and building biological systems using engineered organisms,” Kwan explains.

“It calls for biologists, chemists, engineers and computer scientists to find collaborative ways to understand how genetically encoded parts work together, and then to combine them to produce useful applications that are beneficial to society.”

Shih, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, adds that he and Kwan can now establish a common framework to create, assemble and test DNA parts in a more efficient way.

Steve Shih | Photo by David Ward Steve Shih | Photo by David Ward

“Automation gives scientists more time for creative thinking and design, rather than continuous and intensive manual lab work.”

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, minister of Science, says investments in Canada’s research infrastructure are incredibly important for our nation’s future.

“They help us to attract and retain the very best scientists and give Canadian researchers the tools they need to perform excellent cutting-edge research, train the scientists of tomorrow and enable innovative new discoveries that improve our environment, economy and communities.”

Learn more about
synthetic biology research at Concordia.


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