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Proposal for an interdisciplinary Lab (iLab)
for automated genetic assembly, screening and analysis at the University of Cambridge.

Advances in DNA synthesis and the assembly and analysis of synthetic genetic systems have given rise to new opportunities in biology. It is now possible to create entirely synthetic genomes, and to analyse living systems in unparalleled detail. However this also produces major challenges. Our ability to build synthetic gene circuits far outstrips our ability to programme them. Living systems produce the most complex forms that we know, and these are a robust, self-organising processes. The ideas and tools that will be required to harness these biophysically-coupled, parallel and feedback-driven molecular processes will not come from biology alone. Already the major advances in understanding are emerging from new collaborations between biologists, physicists, chemists, computer scientists and engineers.

Aim:
Establishment of an interdisciplinary and shared facility which has two major functions, to provide:
1. A centre for automated DNA assembly, high throughput microscopy screening, high-speed, high resolution validation and testing, and sharing of hardware and software resources for analysis and modelling.
2. A shared laboratory space for interactions across engineering, the physical, mathematical and biological sciences, and promote interdisciplinary training efforts.
This is a crucial and unfilled need for researchers who don't have easy access to the equipment and infrastructure associated with genetic modification work, where most modern work with biological systems depends on genetic markers. A shared facility for automated genetic assembly and live imaging would facilitate (i) system-wide investigations of genetic systems, (ii) parameter measurements for software modelling and DNA-based circuit construction, and (iii) development of new biological systems for analysis or commercial use. There is currently no similar facility in Cambridge.
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An extended group of students, scientists, engineers and designers have been collaborating and running meetings, informal workshops and student projects in Cambridge since 2005. These activities have successfully promoted:
1. Interdisciplinary interactions, with students moving between Schools to take up PhD projects.
2. Assembly of novel DNA functions, such as novel pigment biosynthesis pathways for low-cost biosensors.
3. Collaboration between biologists and computer science to explore new tools and paradigms for reprogramming biological systems.
4. New funding initiatives from Government, Charity and Commercial partners.
5. International scientific collaborations.
6. Development of new interdisciplinary initiatives in project-based learning.
We now wish to consolidate these benefits and establish a permanent centre for the activities.

We believe that the iLab proposal will build on the expertise already found in the Biological Sciences in Cambridge, and provide a valuable resource for state-of-the-art DNA assembly and high throughput analysis. This will consolidate recent advances in the field, and provide a valuable new resource in the School of Biological Sciences. In addition, the inclusion of a dedicated space for collaborative experiments and teaching will benefit students and faculty across the Physical Sciences and Engineering fields - and for the first time, will allow hands-on training and design of experiments by researchers who may do have access to suitable GM licensed labs, equipment or expertise. In return, biologists will benefit from better exposure to the latest ideas and techniques from Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computing Science and Engineering.

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www.Cambridge-iLab.org

If you would like to get involved with this proposal for an interdisciplinary laboratory space in Cambridge, click on the icon below to register with our LinkedIn Group:

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For background information:
www.synbio.org.uk

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Or contact Jim Haseloff at:
jh295(at)cam.ac.uk