Biological Sciences

School success in the Principal’s Innovation Awards

Two research projects in the School of Biological Sciences have been named as the first winners of the inaugural Principal’s Innovation Awards.

Projects led by Professors Peter Doerner and Susan Rosser were amongst the seven research projects with transformative potential to be named winners of the inaugural awards. 

In addition, Stephen Wallace, Meriem El Karoui, Diego Oyarzun and Susan Rosser all contributed to two other award winning teams led from the School of Chemistry.

Each research team receives £10,000 to develop its idea further.

Professor Peter Doerner

Peter Doerner

A team led by Professor Peter Doerner receive the award for their project ‘Putting the plant in the driving seat: artificial intelligence for crop performance’.

Peter’s laboratory studies how plants control their growth. Plants evolved to adapt their growth to constantly changing conditions in their surrounding environment. 

Extreme environmental changes affect a plant’s ability to regulate their metabolism, hampering their growth.  

Many crops produce on average only 20-40% of their genetically encoded yield potential, due to environmental stress.  

The project aims to develop a plant-computer interface, to directly measure the plant’s responses to its environment and subsequently modify the environment to achieve specific growth outcomes.

The project team also includes Professor Sotirios Tsaftaris, Dr Chris Wood and Dr Karl Burgess.

Susan Rosser    

Professor Susan Rosser

Professor Susan Rosser and Dr Liz Fletcher from the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology, receive the award for their project ‘Make a step change in medicine by engineering new cell-based therapies that can simultaneously combine precise detection of a disease with a targeted treatment’.

Synthetic biology aims to design and engineer biologically based parts, new devices and systems as well as redesigning existing, natural biological systems.

Susan’s project aims to genetically engineer cells that can simultaneously combine diagnosis of a disease with a targeted treatment that prevents disease progression or provides a cure. 

Developing implantable or circulating ‘surveillance’ cells that recognize and process the information associated with disease related changes would allow earlier detection.

The disease could be treated before it develops or progresses by programming the cells to produce a therapeutic molecule, such as an antibody or drug.

Proof-of-concept work

The Principal’s Innovation awards, established in May 2020, support proof-of-concept work to help develop new potentially transformative projects. 

They are designed to enable researchers to turn innovative ideas into ambitious, large-scale research proposals.

The awards were coordinated by Edinburgh Innovations, whose support for staff includes help to access funding streams, working with the College Deans of Research and Edinburgh Research Office.

These seven innovative project proposals show real ambition and creativity, of the kind that can tackle today’s big challenges. I congratulate all the winners and look forward to seeing the projects’ progress.

Professor Peter MathiesonPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor


Excellent proposals have emerged in response to the competition, reflecting the power of Edinburgh’s researchers to have real impact, at a time when innovation is more important than ever.

Dr George BaxterChief Executive Officer, Edinburgh Innovations

Related Links

Edinburgh Innovations - Principals Award Announcement

Peter Doerner’ Lab

Susan Rosser’s Lab

Susan Rosser’s project

UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology