ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology


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8, Feb 2022

Four Centre Members secure ARC Discovery Grants

Congratulations to four of our Centre Members who have successfully secured an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects 2022 grant.

Professor Colin Jackson (Chief Investigator, ANU) has been awarded a grant worth $621,815 for a project that aims to make a landmark contribution to biological science by enabling programmed delivery of therapeutic payloads from biocompatible materials. It will employ a novel synthetic biology approach to form two distinct peptide-enabled molecular architectures in a single system. This is expected to deliver a platform technology that will allow the successful programmed delivery of viral vectors. The project is likely to deliver significant societal benefit as a fundamental scientific platform, improving Australia’s capacity and impact in the agriculture and the healthcare sectors. The platform technology has the potential to increase the quality of life for patients and their carers, while also producing fitter, healthier livestock.

Dr Nicholas Coleman (USYD) will be receiving $530,000 for his project that aims to study the proteins that nature uses to make penicillin and related antibiotics, and their prehistoric ancestors. By doing so, the project expects to deepen understanding of these important processes, open up ways to make new antibiotics, and generate new knowledge about protein evolution. Intended outcomes include new biocatalysts based on the ancient ones, new antibiotic compounds active against resistant bacteria, and a richer understanding of how these proteins have evolved over the last 4 billion years. This promises significant benefits in the form of new ways to address the challenge posed by antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics, which is a serious threat to the continued effectiveness of current antibiotics.

Dr Coleman says ‘I hope to take advantage of the excellent ARC Centre facilities for some of this work, especially for high-throughput screening of mutant libraries. We hope to make an impact on the problem of antibiotic resistance by enabling the biosynthesis of new kinds of antimicrobial compounds.’

Finally, Professor Lars Nielsen (Chief Investigator, UQ) and Dr Thomas Williams (MQ) have secured $494,550 in funding for their project that aims to engineer yeast to convert carbon dioxide- and methane-derived methanol into sustainable chemicals, foods, and pharmaceuticals. This project expects to generate new design principles for methanol metabolism by using the innovative approach of laboratory evolution along with state-of-the-art bio-engineering capabilities at Macquarie University and The University of Queensland. Expected outcomes of this project include new manufacturing processes for chemicals and foods, the discovery of novel metabolism in yeast, and enhanced collaboration between Australia, Denmark, and the United States. This project will provide benefits through sustainable bio-manufacturing, new economic activity, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Williams says ‘It’s both a huge relief and an honour to be awarded this Discovery Project grant. The Discovery program is very competitive with many amazing projects going unfunded, so I feel a moral imperative to make the most of this opportunity. This project is aimed at engineering and understanding yeast one-carbon metabolism, which has the potential to enable yeast to make valuable products from waste carbon. Most synthetic biology companies use yeast as their predominant industrial microorganism, so this project could have wide-ranging impact if successful.’