The Daily Californian Online

Synthetic Biology Institute partners with Agilent Technologies

By Kelsey Clark
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, April 25, 2011
Category: News > University > Research and Ideas

The Synthetic Biology Institute announced its partnership with Agilent Technologies Inc.

In an effort to transfer research results produced in lab settings to technologies that can be applied in the real world, the Synthetic Biology Institute - which began in 2008 as an idea developed by a group of UC Berkeley researchers - announced April 19 its partnership with its first industrial member, Agilent Technologies Inc.

Though the institute has only recently received its funding from Agilent, it has been a practicing organization for the past six months, according to Adam Arkin, director of the institute and of the physical biosciences division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The 10-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Agilent - a company that provides measurement products and services to researchers - will also provide research direction in the area of synthetic biology, Arkin added.

"Basically, the term synthetic biology refers to the fact that what we are doing ... is mastering the ability to get biological organisms to produce products that are useful to society that the organisms would not produce themselves," said Matthew Tirrell, chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Bioengineering and founding director of the institute.

Research in synthetic biology at UC Berkeley currently includes creating organisms that target and kill tumors, producing molecules that can be used as anti-malarial drugs and manipulating plant cells to more efficiently convert plant material into biofuels, according to Tom Gray, spokesperson for the institute.

"I think what we're talking about is really having a kind of administrative or organizational structure in place, that once a discovery is made on (the UC) Berkeley campus it can rapidly be made into new technology," Tirrell said. "It's the acceleration of technology development."

The institute will be seeking partnerships with other industrial members, which would commit to donating a certain amount of cash and in-kind contributions, such as machines, to the institute per year, Arkin said. The 10-year renewable contract with Agilent stipulates that 60 percent of funds will go to specific research or investigators of the company's choice and 40 percent of funds will go to the institute for internal resources, according to Arkin.

As a global company, Agilent has many academic collaborations throughout the world, including other partnerships at UC Berkeley, said Chief Technology Officer for Agilent Darlene Solomon.

She added that the only other partnership with a similar level of commitment and scope as Agilent's membership with the Synthetic Biology Institute is the company's founding membership with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, which began last year.

Besides working with industrial members, the institute collaborates with other University of California-based institutions working in the wider synthetic biology research community. At UC Berkeley, eight departments in four colleges are represented by individual researchers working with the institute, along with researchers from three divisions at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Berkeley is very good at supporting interdisciplinary research on a big scale like this," said Douglas Clark, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UC Berkeley and the executive associate dean of the College of Chemistry. "We're confident that the institute is going to be a big success and make a huge impact in society."



Article Link: http://archive.dailycal.org/article/112934