Friday, December 19, 2008

Synthetic Biology Blooming in the Bay Area

The promise of synthetic biology — key to developing inexpensive biofuels, whipping up computer-generated foods or unleashing tumor-targeted drugs — is driving scientists to set up a sort of biological parts production shop in the Bay Area.

The pet project of Stanford University associate professor and “synbio” wunderkind Drew Endy, the so-called Biofab would be the world’s first facility for producing standardized life forms that could be used as platforms for more complex systems.

That could become a lightning rod for researchers — drawing together work at Stanford, the University of California, Berkeley and UCSF — and for companies wanting to buy reliable, ready-to-use synthesized genes, gene controllers and other biological parts and systems.

In the end, backers say, the Biofab could speed biotech innovation and efficiency, much like standardized, off-the-shelf parts fed the growth of the semiconductor industry.


The facility could cost $5 million to $20 million annually, Keasling said, and initially operate with 20 people. Biofab leaders are talking with biotech landlords in San Francisco’s Mission Bay biotech enclave, along the Peninsula and in the East Bay, hoping to snag a sliver of the roughly 2 million square feet of biotech space on the market today.

“What’s important is showing that this sort of thing is possible with the first fab,” Keasling said, “and we want that to happen in the Bay Area.”

The Biofab would be an offshoot of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC. That program is run by the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3, and funded by a $16 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

The idea capitalizes on the Bay Area’s dominance in the growing synthetic biology field.

More news.

With luck, Emeryville will snag this one too.

If you are wondering what synthetic biology is look here.

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