Synthetic Biology Leadership Council

The council provides leadership for the UK’s interests in the rapidly developing field of Synthetic Biology.

Synthetic Biology (SynBio) applies engineering principles to biology to enable the design and synthesis of standardised and well understood biological parts. This can be used to develop biological devices and systems with potential future applications ranging from energy health, energy production, environmental protection, chemicals, materials and agri-food.

Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK, 2012

UK government strategic initiatives helped to lay the groundwork for an industry-led group of stakeholders to develop ‘A Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK’ (2012), by an industry led working group of stakeholders. These initiatives include the Strategy for Life Sciences (2011) and the Industrial Strategy (2012). The roadmap set out a clear vision for SynBio in the UK, that it should be:

  • economically vibrant, diverse and sustainable
  • of clear public benefit, and
  • cutting edge

The roadmap made 5 over-arching recommendations to:

  • establish a SynBio Leadership Council
  • invest in a network of multidisciplinary research centres to establish an outstanding UK SynBio resource
  • create a skilled, energised and well-funded UK-wide SynBio community
  • invest to accelerate technology responsibly to market
  • assume a leading international role

Synthetic Biology Leadership Council

Set up at the end of 2012, the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC), is jointly chaired by a minister and a representative from industry or academia.


  • to be confirmed
  • Professor Lionel Clarke

The SBLC has overseen implementation of the roadmap recommendations and provided continued focus and leadership for the UK’s interests in the rapidly developing field of SynBio. The SBLC is working with:

  • industry
  • relevant academic disciplines (including engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, the social sciences and ICT)
  • regulators
  • non-government organisations (NGOs)
  • other government departments

to strategically oversee the development of a successful SynBio industry sector in the UK.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) supports the SBLC as an aspect of its commitment to supporting emerging technologies.

UK Synthetic Biology Strategic Plan, 2016

The SBLC have developed a new SynBio Strategic Plan that focuses on translation of the research and commercialisation of SynBio. This is with support from the SynBio Special Interest Group, the research councils and Innovate UK.

The SBLC developed a new SynBio Strategic Plan, Biodesign for the Bioeconomy. This followed an extensive consultation period with the support of the SynBio Special Interest Group, the research councils and Innovate UK.

Launched on 24 February 2016, the strategic plan keeps the vision of the original roadmap, but adds to the strength of the UK’s research base to translate and commercialise SynBio. It focuses on 5 productivity-related areas that are important to accelerating the commercial translation and delivery of products and services of clear public benefit:

  • accelerating industrialisation and commercialisation
  • maximising the capability of the innovation pipeline
  • creating an expert workforce
  • developing a supportive and business environment
  • creating value from national and international partnerships

SBLC Governance Subgroup

The SBLC has formed several sub-groups to consider in more depth particular areas. The Governance Subgroup is chaired by Professor Joyce Tait, Innogen, University of Edinburgh. It provides support and advice to the SBLC and encourages an open, adaptive and consultative approach to governance within the UK’s SynBio innovation ecosystem. Development of a responsible, transparent and sectoral approach to the application of SynBio is a priority for the Governance Subgroup.

Previous initiatives

The original roadmap built on earlier initiatives funded by the research councils. For instance, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) founded a £4.7 million Centre for SynBio Research and Innovation (CSynBI) at Imperial College in late 2008. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), EPSRC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) undertook a public dialogue on SynBio in June 2010. In October 2012, EPSRC, BBSRC and Innovate UK, cofounded a £10 million national Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) in SynBio. SynbiCITE is at Imperial College, and supports collaboration between universities and industrial partners.

Since the launch of the original roadmap, UK public sector investment in SynBio has totalled approximately £300 million including £50 million government funding for a Synthetic Biology for growth programme. This has led to 6 new multidisciplinary research centres, DNA synthesis facilities, training centres and a seed fund for innovative companies.