BGI and the University of Manchester have launched a five-year collaboration focused on synthetic biology and metabolic engineering.

The partnership, whose value was not disclosed, will focus on synthetic biology and metabolic engineering of natural products, BGI said, with the goals of promoting academic research, education and industrialization.

The collaboration will draw upon the work of Yizhi (Patrick) Cai, Ph.D., chair in synthetic genomics at the University of Manchester, whose lab is involved with the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project (Sc2.0), which aims to redesign and synthesize a 12-Mb designer yeast genome de novo.

“For the collaboration, researchers from both sides intend to start with the Sc2.0 synthetic yeast as a tool to establish the workflow for high efficient construction and characterization of biosynthesis pathways of natural products, and will gradually extended to industrial strains,” BGI spokeswoman Kristi Heim told GEN.

Among synthetic genomics projects Dr. Cai's lab is working on, according to his lab website, are the Induced Evolution of Synthetic Yeast genomes (IESY) project, which applies the synthetic chromosome rearrangement and modification by LoxP-mediated evolution (SCRaMbLE) system to generate high-fitness yeast cells with synthetic chromosomes under specific conditions.

Dr. Cai’s lab is also involved in designing and building a transfer RNA (tRNA) neochromosome in yeast that contains all tRNA genes relocated from the synthetic yeast genome, as part of the international synthetic yeast consortium, as well as understanding the structure and function of the budding yeast pericentromere and its role in chromosome segregation, in collaboration with the lab of Adele Marston, Ph.D., of the University of Edinburgh.

Another focus area of Dr. Cai’s lab is DNA synthesis automation and technology development, using liquid-handling robots and other laboratory automation equipment as well as a workflow management system. The lab has developed an extensible mammalian modular assembly kit (EMMA) designed to facilitate efficient design and production of vectors—a method designed to support assembly of combinatorial libraries and hierarchical assembly for production of larger multigenetic cargos.

The collaboration aligns with China’s decade-old interest in advancing synthetic biology. The announcement cited the potential for synthetic biology to provide “profitable opportunities in a wide range of areas including biomanufacturing, pharmacology, energy, environment, and agriculture.”

In March, a BGI research team led the completed redesign and synthesis of the 770-kilobase-pair-long chromosome II, transforming it into a yeast cell, resulting in a synthetic strain consistent in viability with wild-type strains. That work was carried out as part of Sc2.0, toward the completion of the de novo redesign and synthesis of five chromosomes of Saccharomyces cerevisiae—chromosomes II, V, VI, X, and XII.

“Challenges and Opportunities”

“We are faced with both challenges and opportunities in the rising tide of synthetic biology,” BGI chairman Huanming (Henry) Yang, Ph.D., said in a statement. “We should encourage multiparty collaboration to overcome obstacles and discover new potentials.”

In the statement, Xun Xu, Ph.D., director of BGI Research and executive director of China National GeneBank (CNGB), cited one example of a biomanufacturing challenge: “Natural products like artemisinin have generated tremendous value in improving people’s health, but there are still considerable issues to be resolved.”

Biomanufacturing will be another area of focus for BGI's collaboration with the University of Manchester.

“Our collaboration will be focused on addressing the upstream process, which is biology-driven and remains underexplored due to our limited knowledge of cells and the metabolic pathways of natural products from various resources,” Heim said. “In our collaboration, we will bring the strengths from both sides on high throughput and automated Omics-level analysis and characterization to streamline and improve the efficiency of upstream processing workflow.”

BGI and the University of Manchester signed a strategic cooperation agreement at the 12th annual International Conference on Genomics (ICG-12,) held yesterday at CNGB.

Joining in the ceremony with Drs. Yang, Xu, and Cai were Hank Wang, Ph.D., CBO of BGI; Yue Shen, Ph.D., director of genome synthesis and editing platform of CNGB; and Jason Chen, Ph.D., head of international cooperation at CNGB.

The collaboration with the University of Manchester is the fifth research partnership announced by BGI since the start of October. Most notably, on October 26, BGI announced a joint research effort with George Church, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, a longtime advisor to BGI, focused on applying synthetic biology, initially through the development of enabling technologies in high-density DNA storage, biomanufacturing of natural products, and genome editing for medicine and new therapy.

Dr. Church accepted the position of chief scientist for the new George Church Institute of Regenesis, to be based within CNGB, with plans to launch an unspecified series of projects starting in January 2018.

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