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TU Darmstadt launches Centre for Synthetic Biology with a strong focus on engineering

2020/01/29

TU Darmstadt is uniting its research competence in the field of synthetic biology in a new centre. By international standards, the "Centre for Synthetic Biology" positions itself uniquely due to its emphasis on engineering and technology.

With the launch of the Centre for Synthetic Biology, TU Darmstadt commits to synthetic biology as a key research focus.

Research at TU Darmstadt integrates a broad field ranging from the development of methods for the generation of genetic logic circuits using computer models to the design of ion-conducting nanopores, which open up new applications in bioengineering. The respective research groups have already received several million euros in funding from the Hessian Funding Programme for Scientific Excellence (LOEWE) (projects CompuGene and iNAPO). The new centre unites scientists from biology, chemistry and electrical engineering, material sciences, physics, mechanical engineering and philosophy.

"The Centre for Synthetic Biology is an example of how TU Darmstadt is breaking new ground in research fields promising high future potential. Our centres and profile areas are the cornerstones of interdisciplinary research at our university." Professor Tanja Brühl, TU President

Synthetic biology is an engineering approach to equip biological cells with new molecular properties and features. In contrast to traditional biotechnology, this functionality is achieved by combining well-characterised and standardised components at the molecular level. New molecular biology methods, such as versions of the gene scissors CRISPR, are used in the process. At the same time, the design methodology for RNA molecules and proteins for specific targets is continuously evolving. Overall, synthetic biology benefits from integrating research results from biophysics and biochemistry, micro- and nanostructuring, automation and control engineering, computer-aided design methods in electrical engineering and advances in the field of machine learning.

Professor Heinz Koeppl, Head of the Centre for Synthetic Biology, adds: “In addition to the initial work by CompuGene and iNAPO, my current ERC Consolidator Project CONSYN is also well suited to contribute to the development of the Centre. The main objective there is to correctly translate the problematic context-dependency of genetic circuits into computer models. These models can then be used to make circuits more robust”.

Application scenarios are highly diverse

The application scenarios of synthetic biology are highly diverse: they range from intelligent biosensors for in vitro diagnostics to the production of optimised proteins, from the production of biocompatible materials to new regulatory mechanisms for more robust plants or for electricity generation using microorganisms.

In addition to interdisciplinary research, the new centre will also promote young scientists and accept PhD students within the recently established “Life Science Engineering” Graduate School. For its opening event, the Centre hosts an international workshop on Synthetic Biology at TU Darmstadt on April 23-24, 2020.

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Founding team of the Centre for Synthetic Biology: Dr. Melanie Mikosch-Wersching, Professor Heinz Koeppl, Professor Beatrix Süß, Professor Thomas Burg, Professor Heribert Warzecha (from left). Not in the picture: Professor Harald Kolmar.