Biotechnology for sustainable health and wealth
Biotechnology is defined broadly as the process of using living systems (e.g. yeast, plants, bacteria, human stem cells) to develop or make new products.
It can help address the climate emergency by enabling us to transition from our dependence on petrochemicals to one based on bio-based feedstocks and processes thereby developing more sustainable ways to feed, fuel and heal the planet.
Advances in research and technology are increasing the speed, scale and precision in which we can robustly and predictably modify biological systems for new and useful applications.
Using engineering principles to redesign living systems, we can achieve transformative improvements across many industries. For example, we can re-programme stem cells for use as medicines or turn living cells, such as yeast and bacteria, into ‘biofactories’ to produce ‘greener’ chemicals, medicines and biofuels.
The University of Edinburgh applies cross-disciplinary expertise to create a more sustainable world for future generations. We work collaboratively across disciplines – from molecular biology through to social sciences – to carry out research to address global challenges.
We then work closely with industry to ensure these reach the market and benefit the health and wealth of the UK and beyond. Alongside our research, we also foster a supportive and challenging environment in which to train the next generation of researchers from undergraduate to graduate courses.
Areas of strength
These are core to our ability to design and build new organisms with predictability. Edinburgh is proud to host two research centres: SynthSys; and the only research centre globally to focus on mammalian synthetic biology (the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology).
We have a wide range of research around using novel feedstocks, re-using industrial by-products, recycling of rare metals, harnessing the properties of novel microbes (e.g. extremophiles), and bioremediation of contaminated sites using microbes.
Modern biotechnologies generates vast volumes of data, the analysis and interpretation of which is vital to the development of the field. Edinburgh is a world-leading center for data-driven innovation, which supports our drive to accelerate biotechnology research across the region.
Several researchers are developing novel biomaterials that have unique functions not seen in nature.
Plants make excellent living ‘factories’ for novel materials and we have a unique capability in plant and algal biotechnology.
We have world class expertise in ‘living therapies’ such as stem cell therapies. Potentially these offer transformative solutions (‘cures’) to what are currently chronic, irreversible and poorly controlled diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. We also have expertise in the production of biologics, the fastest growing class of medicines.
The University is host to the Innogen Institute, which produces high quality research and supports the delivery of innovation that is profitable, safe and societally useful. Innogen helps guide new UK and global policies around the regulation of next generation biotechnologies such as synthetic biology, GM crops and regenerative medicines.
The University has a wealth of high-tech facilities to support its research, which can be accessed by academic and commercial users. For example:
- Edinburgh Genome Foundry – for design and build of DNA constructs for cell transformation
- Edinomics – for cell/strain analysis using proteomics and metabolomics
- Edinburgh Protein Production Facility – for protein production and analysis
- Electron Microscopy – for high-resolution structural analysis of molecules