The ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology (CoESB)

A platform for technical innovation critical for Australia to develop a vibrant bioeconomy building on the nation’s strengths in agriculture.

For thousands of years we have used microbes to create bread, wine, cheese. Now, synthetic biology combines engineering with molecular biology to design and construct novel biological systems that can convert biomass from agriculture or waste streams to biofuel, bioplastics and other high-value chemicals. The Centre will pioneer new approaches to the design of synthetic microbes, enabling the development of custom-designed microbial communities, synthetic organelles and new to nature biological pathways and enzymes.

Benefit and Impact

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology (CoESB) will engineer novel microbial cell factories that will drive the successful emergence of an environmentally sustainable advanced biomanufacturing industry in Australia. Such an outcome will increase rural employment and investment, enhance income streams for farmers and improve Australia’s balance of trade. The CoESB will train the next generation of synthetic biologists steeped in industrial translation, capable of establishing the Australian bioeconomy start-up companies of the future.


The ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology engineers synthetic microbes to enable a new bio-based economy that delivers world-changing solutions.


Microorganisms have evolved over billions of years to successfully occupy a broad variety of ecological niches. However, they have not evolved for high level production of particular metabolites for industrial exploitation. To overcome the limitations of natural biological systems, we will build custom-designed microbial communities, synthetic organelles and non-natural enzymes and metabolic pathways. This ground- breaking science will provide the technical innovation critical for Australia to develop a vibrant bioeconomy, where synthetic microorganisms convert biomass from agriculture or waste streams to high-value chemicals.

Establishing a robust environmentally-sustainable bioprocessing industry in Australia will lead to significant rural investment and jobs, and new export opportunities.

Synthetic biology is a rapidly advancing field that applies engineering principles to molecular sciences to design and construct novel biological systems. Currently, synthetic biology approaches are dependent on components (i.e., DNA, genes, proteins) that have evolved specifically for the benefit of the microbes. To build “next generation microbial cell factories” capable of biochemical transformations not currently feasible, we need to move beyond existing enzymes and defined metabolic pathways, and expand the repertoire of available biological systems. This synthetic biology-driven innovation will be critical for the successful emergence of bioprocessing industries in Australia. The CoESB will develop novel microbial cell factories is organised in three interlinked pioneering themes:

Theme 1.
Synthetic Microbial Communities- we will develop synthetic symbiotic or co-dependent communities of two or more microorganisms.

Theme 2.
Synthetic Organelles- we will design new organelles and subcellular structures.

Theme 3.
Neobiochemistry- we will develop new-to-nature enzymes, and metabolic pathways dependent on synthetic cofactors.

We have three cross-cutting capabilities that underlie and support the Themes to maximise our impact.

Capability 1. 
Systems Bioengineering- will provide computational metabolic modelling and functional characterisation of our synthetic microbes and automated design processes to improve their designs.

Capability 2.
Industrial Translation- will provide industrial bioprocessing and scale-up from the laboratory to pilot and full commercial processes, and analysis of business and social factors which affecttechnology adoption.

Capability 3.
Social Dimensions- will explore the societal issues of our synthetic biology research in terms of legal frameworks, ethics and the environment, art and design.


  • Development of a new generation of microbial cell factories based on the synergistic combination of synthetic microbial communities, synthetic organelles and neobiochemistry
  • Successful commercialisation of our synthetic microbes for the production of valuable commodities
  • Development of an advanced bioprocessing industry in Australia, taking advantage of the nation’s historical strengths in agriculture, leading to enhanced rural incomes, employment, and improved balance of trade
  • Development of automated approaches for improved synthetic microbe design and construction
  • Development of powerful tools for answering fundamental questions in microbial ecology and evolution
  • Development of strategies to overcome ethical, legal and social issues that may impact the successful uptake and adoption of synthetic biology
  • Enhancement of Australia’s capabilities in a critical strategic field recognised as a priority by international agencies
  • Training of a cohort of multidisciplinary scientists able to apply powerful new disruptive technologies to a myriad of questions and practical problems facing Australia and the world

Our advances in synthetic microbial communities, synthetic organelles and neobiochemistry will have potential applications across a broad swathe of fields such as bioremediation, agriculture, andhealthcare, thereby impacting other Australian Science and Research priorities such as Health, Environmental Change, Energy, and Food. The Centre’s research builds on two of Australia’s recognised research strengths in Synthetic Biology and Agricultural Biotechnology.