Durham scientists win funding to work with industry to develop sustainable chemicals, energy, medicines and food
Scientists at Durham University have won access to £45 million in Government funding to work with industry on new advances in biotechnology.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts today, 18 December, announced that Durham would receive a share of an initial £18 million to develop networks with companies and other Universities to harness the properties of metals found in biological molecules.
Metals are now estimated to drive about half of the reactions of life. These vital elements include iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc plus some less appreciated essential metals such as copper, cobalt, manganese and nickel. In all, nearly a third of genes need some metal or other for their products to work.
Researchers from a diversity of disciplines will work together to exploit these biological molecules for a range of uses including the production and processing of biopharmaceuticals, materials, valuable chemicals and sustainable energy-supply.
Biologists will investigate genes and other molecules that manage metals in cells, working alongside chemists exploring how the chemical properties of each metal are tuned when bound to biological molecules.
Durham is unusual in having biologists embedded in its Department of Chemistry to enable deeper understanding of how elements such as metals interact with the molecules of living organisms.
The initial funding will be shared between 13 networks and has come from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under its Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBB) project. It allows access to a further £45 million in funding to drive economic growth and create jobs.
Durham’s researchers will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Kent, and elsewhere, on the network entitled Metals in Biology: The elements of Biotechnology and Bioenergy .
Durham University and the UK more broadly, have world leaders who have discovered how living cells handle metals and how cells use metals as catalysts. The aspiration is to translate this recent knowledge into practical solutions for industry.
Network Principal Investigator Nigel Robinson, Professor in both the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences and the Department of Chemistry, at Durham University, said: "Understanding the properties of metals when bound to different types of proteins presents us with opportunities to engineer cells and biological molecules to generate new activities or to improve them for biotechnology."
"New antimicrobials are being produced which inhibit growth of micro-organisms by interfering with metal-handling in fungi and bacteria. These could be used in consumer goods, food-production and packaging, agriculture and in therapeutic drugs."
"By working with industry we will translate knowledge of metals in biology into products to benefit everyday lives as well as providing employment and economic opportunities."
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy.
"These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells."
Companies who want additional information or want to join the network should Metals in Biology NIBB Dr Pamela Robinson, Business Development Manager in Durham Business and Innovation Services, on +44 (0)191 33 44646 or email p.j.robinson [a] durham.ac (p) uk