ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology


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16, Nov 2020

Prestigious grant wins for Centre researchers

Six Centre node researchers have been successful in the latest round of Australian Research Council grants.

Recipients of ARC Discovery Project grants are Professor Kirill Aleksandrov of Queensland University of Technology, Professor Aleksandra Filipovska and Professor Oliver Rackham of the University of Western Australia and Dr Karl Hassan of the University of Newcastle.  Professor Brett Neilan, also of the University of Newcastle, receives an ARC Linkage grant.

Professor Aleksandrov has been awarded $570,000 for research into the genetic code expansion of a eukaryotic in-vitro translation system. The aim is to develop a new higher-organism, cell-free protein production system that can incorporate multiple unnatural amino acids into defined points of proteins.  The genetic code programs biosynthesis of polypeptides with far greater efficiency that chemical engineering. This work aims to overcome the limitations of chemical diversity in natural amino acids and help supercharge biology with a range of new protein activities.

Professor Flipovska and Rachham, with funding of $488, 772, will research improved and multifunctional gene editing systems. Advances in genome editing has enabled the targeted modulation of gene expression in cells and provided new tools for biotechnology. The project will combine computational design and genetic selection to deliver the next generation of precision gene editing tools. The aim is to harness improved cellular energy production to make more efficient biological products.

Dr Hassan and colleagues will research polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon transport and degradation. The $416,025 project aims to investigate the molecular processes underpinning the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS) by bacteria.  PAHs are persistent environmental contaminants linked to several human diseases, including cancer.  Bacteria capable of degrading the contaminants could be used to naturally and effectively reduce environmental PAH loads to below safe levels.

Professor Neilan, working with Diagnostic Technology Pty Ltd, has been awarded more than $400,000 to research a novel platform fro the biosynthesis of commercially valuable saxitoxins, potent microbial toxins which pose a significant threat to food and water quality.

Highly pure saxitoxins, however, are required for environmental monitoring and studies of cell physiology. Certain analogues also show promise as long-lasting, non addictive pain blockers but are hard to procure from natural sources.

This project aims to use the latest synthetic biology techniques to characterise, modify and express saxitoxin biosynthesis pathways to provide a sustainable source for industry and research.


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