• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Investment of up to £3.5m in business-led projects to develop innovative tools and services for the UK synthetic biology industry.

  • Programme: Collaborative research and development

  • Award: Up to £3.8m

  • Opens: 18 Nov 2013

  • Registration closes: 08 Jan 2014

  • Closes: 15 Jan 2014

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

Tools and services for synthetic biology

Competition results

The results of this competition are now available; see the PDF of the winning project proposals.


The Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Welsh Government (WG) are investing up to £3.8m in business-led projects to develop innovative tools and services for the UK synthetic biology industry
This competition will help to establish a portfolio of tools and services which will improve competitiveness and profitability within the UK synthetic biology industry, while also opening up new market opportunities for the providers of those tools and services. 
As well as projects developing commercial offerings, we are looking for innovations intended for in-house deployment, or which may be available to others via other business models.
Proposals must be collaborative and business-led and can include companies of any size. We expect to fund mainly industrial research projects in which a business partner will generally attract up to 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for small to medium-sized enterprises - SMEs). 
We expect projects to range in size from total costs of £100k to £350k, although we may consider projects outside this range. Projects should ideally last for no more than 12 months, although in certain circumstances projects lasting up to 18 months may be considered. 
The competition opens on 18 November 2013. The deadline for registration is at noon on 8 January 2014 and the deadline for applications is at noon on 15 January 2014
A briefing event for potential applicants will be held in London on 26 November 2013


Synthetic biology - applying engineering tools and approaches to biological cells, biochemical pathways and whole organisms - offers the potential to design and develop novel systems, or to redesign existing ones. 
Potential applications of synthetic biology include new ways of making high-value materials, such as fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals, renewable energy sources, processes for detecting and addressing environmental contamination, and increasing agricultural productivity. Projected global market opportunity figures are in the region of $10bn by 2016. 
Most of this revenue is expected to be generated by synthetic biology-derived products, but there are significant market opportunities for innovations in novel tools and services to underpin product development. The UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap (2012) described a number of key tools as being key enablers for growth in the sector. 
More information is available through the Synthetic Biology Special Interest Group
This competition builds on significant government investment in synthetic biology, including the Synthetic Biology for Growth programme being delivered through the research councils and a Synthetic Biology Innovation and Knowledge Centre. 


The focus of this competition is to develop underpinning synthetic biology tools and service solutions, expanding product portfolios of existing service companies and encouraging the creation of new ones. 
These will help to increase the rate of development and commercialisation of products and services, and accelerate growth within the synthetic biology industry. We will support in-house development where this either minimises the risks in future R&D investment, or cuts the time involved in getting products to market. 
Our investment seeks to overcome technical constraints by encouraging projects trying to achieve greater efficiency around the design/build/test cycle. These include tools that enable: 
  • rational design of genetic circuits, molecules and pathways 
  • characterisation and measurement of circuit performance parameters 
  • consideration of other factors influencing gene expression. 

We are also seeking proposals which include strain engineering to produce novel or improved chassis. 

Also in scope are fundamental tools of genetic circuit development and DNA handling. These include, but are not restricted to: 
  • assembly 
  • gene synthesis 
  • gene sequencing 
  • genome editing and annotation tools. 
Software-based tools and services, not limited to those listed above, are within scope. Other options include those for data management and exchange, and bioinformatics, as well as development of hardware and equipment where they can be shown to add value within the synthetic biology supply chain. 
Alongside applications from companies already exploring synthetic biology opportunities, we are particularly keen to encourage applications from companies outside the biology, engineering and ICT sectors, offering innovations which could overcome challenges associated with the journey to market of synthetic biology-derived products. 
Projects should be aimed at introducing new knowledge and skills to develop novel tools, processes or services, or at bringing about a significant improvement in what is currently available. We do anticipate that further research will be needed before innovations are ready for market. 
Projects aiming to generate specific products, such as high-value chemicals, through synthetic biology approaches are out of scope. 

Funding allocation and project details

We have allocated up to £3.8m to fund collaborative R&D projects that address the technical challenges outlined in the scope. Projects must be business-led and collaborative. 
Successful applicants can attract grant funding towards their eligible project costs. The percentage of costs that we pay varies, depending on the type of research carried out and the type of organisation involved. However we are primarily seeking to fund industrial research with a business partner attracting 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs).
Research organisations may collaborate with business partners, however business must incur at least 70% of the total project costs. We expect projects to range in size from £100k to £350k and to be completed within 12 months; although those of up to 18 months' duration may be considered if discussed prior to application.

Looking for partners to work on your project? 

Go to _connect to find collaborators and networks, including the Synthetic Biology Special Interest Group page 
See if your business fits the EU definition of an SME

Application process

This competition opens for applicants on 18 November 2013
Applicants must register by noon on 8 January 2014 and must submit their applications by noon on 15 January 2014
Applications are assessed on individual merit by an independent panel of experts. We may apply a portfolio approach across the themes/areas, subject to applications meeting the required quality threshold. 
Project partners are also required to complete a Responsible Innovation (RI) appraisal for the proposed work, through an additional Appendix on the application form. A separate expert panel will meet to conduct an RI appraisal on those projects meeting the required quality threshold and deemed suitable for funding. Those projects failing the RI appraisal may be required to submit a revised appraisal before the work commences. 
Consortium building workshops for this competition will be held in Manchester on 23 September 2013 and in Cardiff on 24 September 2013
A competition briefing will be held in London on 26 November 2013 to highlight the main features of the competition and explain the application process including the RI appraisal. Applicants are strongly recommended to attend. 

More information

To apply you must first register with us. Register from the opening date of this competition and you will get access to all the supporting information you need to read before you apply, including the Guidance for Applicants and the application form. 
Our sustainability tool, Horizons, is free for you to use in considering the environmental, political and social drivers for your Project. For support in using Horizons, please email clare.martynski@tsb.gov.uk 

Key dates

  • Consortium building event (Manchester): 23 September 2013
  • Consortium building event (Cardiff): 24 September 2013
  • Competition opens: 18 November 2013
  • Briefing event (London): 26 November 2013 (am)
  • Registration deadline: Noon 8 January 2014
  • Deadline for applications: Noon 15 January 2014


As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive.
The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the award is confirmed as final. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public. Email pressoffice@tsb.gov.uk with any queries.