ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

synthetic biology

Latest news

25, Nov 2022

Sound success in ARC funding rounds 

Centre researchers have excelled in the latest round of Australian Research Council Discovery Grants. And a bid under the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant scheme has also been successful.  

Cyanobacteria in oceans

Centre Director Professor Ian Paulsen and team attracted almost $500,000 for research into whether cyanobacteria can use organic nutrients to thrive in oceans. Marine cyanobacteria are central to regulating the global climate and underpin entire marine food webs. Though they possess genes necessary to uptake diverse organic nutrients, we know very little about whether and how organic nutrients shape the physiology and ecology of cyanobacteria.  

‘Our molecules-to-ecosystems approach expects to transform our understanding of alternate nutrient acquisition in cyanobacteria and how it may shape populations of these important photosynthetic organisms in a rapidly changing ocean landscape,’ says Professor Paulsen. 

Single cell genomics platform

Professor Paulsen also leads a team that attracted $800,000 to build a multifaceted technology platform to enhance single cell genomics. A major limitation of traditional cellular studies is that they scrutinise DNA or RNA extracted from thousands of cells, resulting in a population average of what is there. This blunt approach misses key differences and interactions between cells in populations. This project aims to build capacity within the Ramaciotti Centre Consortium by acquiring equipment for enhanced sorting or spatial mapping of single cells. This will enable innovative science across diverse fields including industrial biotechnology, environmental microbiology, neurobiology, and biosecurity. 

An enigmatic toxin

University of Newcastle Chief Investigator Professor Brett Neilan, Associate Investigator Leanne Pearson and collaborators attracted $630,000 to explore the genetic basis for the production of tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin of ecological and biomedical significance. It is thought to be produced by microorganisms and transferred via the food web to fish, molluscs and other marine animals.

‘Our integrated genomic and synthetic biology approach, targeting key biosynthesis genes, will reveal pathways for the production of tetrodotoxin and other potentially valuable compounds. In addition to providing insight into the ecology and biosynthesis of this enigmatic toxin, the data can help improve seafood safety and provide a foundation for the future development of novel neuroactive compound,’ says Professor Neilan. 

Transforming bio industries

Queensland University of Technology Chief Investigator, Professor Ian O’Hara, and his collaborators aim to transform Australian bio-based industries through multiscale modelling. Agricultural and forestry biomass can be converted into feedstocks for production of biofuels and biomaterials via synthetic biology. A key challenge is the complex biomass microstructure renders. This project will use micro-CT imaging to characterise changes in the fibre composition during pretreatment. This information will be used to create a virtual biomass particle model to inform optimal process design.  

Reading DNA molecules

UNSW Chief Investigator Dr Lawrence Lee won $492,000 to develop technology capable of accurately reading the sequence of a single DNA molecule for the first time. ‘The outcome of accurate DNA sequencing at single molecule resolution, promises ground-breaking biological insight from a more fine-grained view of the genetic world, game-changing technologies such as point-of-care genomics and in turn a substantial impact on the rapidly growing multi-billion-dollar DNA sequencing market,’ he says.  

Improving crop efficiency

Dr Yu Heng Lau of the Centre’s Sydney node leads a team working on remodelling of encapsulin nanocages to enhance plant carbon fixation. Nature has evolved mechanisms in microbial systems to improve photosynthetic efficiency by saturating the enzyme Rubisco with carbon dioxide,’ he says. ‘These carbon concentrating mechanisms are genetically complex, precluding successful introduction into crops. Our simpler approach is to use encapsulins, a new source of robust bacterial pore-containing nanocages made from a single gene. This project will optimise the development of synthetic encapsulin-Rubisco carbon-fixing nanoreactors and transform them into leaf chloroplasts to test their impact on plant photosynthesis and growth. Our genetically simpler solution will aid ongoing global efforts to deliver overdue step change improvements in agricultural productivity.’