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SynBioTEC Report Summary

Project ID: 668997
Funded under: H2020-EU.4.c.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SynBioTEC (Establishing ERA Chair position in Synthetic Biology at University of Tartu Institute of Technology)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Biosustainablility is an important goal for humanity as it addresses many global challenges we face. The rapidly emerging field of synthetic biology provides a powerful opportunity to make this goal a reality. By combining molecular biology and engineering, synthetic biology represents a paradigm shift where biology is becoming an engineering discipline with tools to design and construct cells and organisms with novel functions. These can be used as cell factories to replace and extend current chemical and pharmaceutical production techniques in an environmentally sustainable way.

The SynBioTEC ERA Chair and a team ofexperienced researchers at University of Tartu Institute of Technology (TUIT) will establish the multidisciplinary Centre of Synthetic Biology. The ERA Chair and the newly recruited team of researchers will bring about the necessarystructural changes at TUIT to merge the competences of existing research groups on molecular biology to foster excellentresearch for development of industrially relevant designer cells, focusing on cell factories.

The main objective of the SynBioTEC project is to facilitate structural changes at TUIT to foster excellent research in the area of synthetic biology by establishing an ERA Chair position at the newly established Centre of Synthetic Biology, helping the institute to achieve its scientific vision and contribute significantly to European Research Area.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The goal of the SynBioTEC project was to recruit an efficient research manager as an ERA Chair in synthetic biology and cell factory design. The ERA Chair and the newly recruited team of researchers will bring about the necessary structural changes at the Institute of Technology (TUIT) to merge the competences of existing research groups on molecular biology in order to establish the multidisciplinary Centre of Synthetic Biology and to foster excellent research for development of industrially relevant designer cells, focusing on cell factories.
The SynBioTEC’s first year’s progress include: 1) ERA Chair recruitment timed precisely as proposed by the work package; 2) Recruitment of an international group (four people) of scientists with various aspects of expertize; 3) Established a research direction in microbial cell factories; 4) Established the Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology (ECSB); 5) Introduction of ERA Chair management principles to the research groups and ECSB; 5) Success in raising additional funds for the core facility for synthetic biology; 6) Success in raising additional grants for research expenses; 7) Extensive networking within academia: the ECSB became an associated member of consortium of Centers of Synthetic Biology; 8) Launching the first innovative undergraduate programme in synthetic biology; 9) The business plan and ESIF proposal for Broad Foundry (Synthetic Biology Core Facility) that would be the major service provider for SB construction and testing (design-build-test cycle) in the Baltic Sea region; 10) Networking for the Teaming partnership: established collaboration between ECSB and Novo Nordisk Foundation of Biosustainability; 11) Networking: establishing collaboration with Estonian chemical industry and bio-based industries; 12) Submitted the H2020 Widespread Teaming proposal to upgrade the ECSB into a leading European research centre in synthetic biology and to develop a pilot plant; 13) Organized and participated in a number of meetings and other public outreach events to increase the awareness about risks and benefits of synthetic biology; 14) Establishment the Scientific Advisory Board, the Project Management Board, and the Research Exploitation Committee for the project.
In conclusion, the first period of the project has been very succesful with all planned goals achieved. In fact, especially with respect to networking with industry and academia, and also raising additional funds for research and infrastructure, the project has exceeded the expectations.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

"Despite the short period of the appointment, the ERA Chair has been very successful in raising research funding:
Petri-Jaan Lahtvee received a Personal Investigation Support from Estonian Research Council for the years 2017-2020 (4 years) in an amount of 200 kEUR. The funding was given to develop enegy efficient cell factory platform strains for yeast by systematically analyzing the protein turnover in yeast under various environmental conditions and applying deep-learning algorithms to detect the underlying principles behind higher turnover for individual proteins and in environmental dependencies.

During the first 10 month of the appointment, the ERA Chair has been succesful in publishing and preparing manuscript for scientific journal with high impact:
Publications from 2016:
Lahtvee, P.J., Kumar, R., Hallström, B.M. and Nielsen, J., 2016. Adaptation to different types of stress converge on mitochondrial metabolism. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 27(15), pp.2505-2514.
Lahtvee PJ, Sanchez BJ, Smialovska A, Kasvandik S, Elsemman I, Nielsen J. Absolute quantification of protein and mRNA abundances demonstrate variability in gene-specific translation efficiency in yeast. Under review in Cell Systems (rebuttal sent out).
Sánchez BJ#, Zhang C#, Nilsson A, Lahtvee PJ, Kerkhoven E, Nielsen J. Including enzymatic constraints in a yeast genome scale model. Under review in Molecular Systems Biology (awaiting reviewer comments).
Babazadeh R#, Lahtvee PJ#, Beck C, Goksör M, Nielsen J, Hohmann S. The yeast osmostress response is carbon source dependent. Under review in PNAS (awaiting reviewer coments)

During the first 10 month of the appointment, the ERA Chair has been extremely active and proliferative in networking with academia and induistry and building the research strategy of ECSB:
Petri-Jaan Lahtvee was involved as one of the main participant in defining the research and innovation strategies for the Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology. During this process, number of Estonian and European industrial players were contacted to understand their interest towards synthetic biology applications.
During this process, several interested parties were detected (Lallemand Ldt (France), Evolva AB (Denmark), AS Alexela Group (Estonia), AS Graanul Invest (Estonia), etc), being interested in collaborating in creating new producer strains and using local industrial bioproducts (biomass, exhaust gas, etc) as a substrate for microbial bioprocesses.

Managment principles
Petri came from in the Scandinavian environment. Similar managing principles are introduced also for ERA Chair in SynBio group. Petri is currently working on improving the safety requirements for the institute and introducing new safety related SOPs for the new employees."

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