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Establishing ERA Chair position in Synthetic Biology at University of Tartu Institute of Technology

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SynBioTEC (Establishing ERA Chair position in Synthetic Biology at University of Tartu Institute of Technology)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2020-09-30

The transition to a clean economy, using renewable raw materials and organic waste instead of fossil fuels (the circular economy), requires innovative technologies with significantly lower carbon footprint than at present. Biotechnology, synthetic biology and other life sciences provide an ideal opportunity to grow the local economy while reducing the impact of anthropogenic climate change. Recent rapid developments in synthetic biology provide entirely new opportunities for the development of food, chemicals, materials, energy and fuels, the IT sector, environment and health.
The SynBioTEC ERA-Chair project has been led by and implemented at the Institute of Technology, University of Tartu (TUIT), Estonia. The project has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 668997.
The established ERA Chair position in Synthetic Biology founded the Estonian Centre of Synthetic Biology (ECSB) at the institute. ECSB is merging the scientific excellence of the various research groups into one functional whole, focusing on the development of a research and development platform for the sustainable bio-manufacturing of biomaterials, high-value chemicals and pharmaceuticals using cell factories. ECSB accelerates the transition from proof-of-concept science to commercial production via iterative design cycles. The platform will move cell factory technology from the lab to pilot-scale production in bioreactors with less cost and development time compared with current techniques.
The main objective of the SynBioTEC project was 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 Estonian Centre of Synthetic Biology, helping the institute to achieve its scientific vision and contribute significantly to European Research Area.
During the duration of SynBioTEC project, we have contributed to the four key areas.
1. Increased research excellence of University of Tartu in synthetic biology by
• Established synthetic biology research group with high profile scientists
• Established Design-Build-Test-Learn platform for the efficient cell design at the Institute
• Started new English-language curricula on all three levels of higher education
• Increased inter-institutional collaboration and explored interdisciplinary synthetic biology-related topics
• Increased the network of research collaborators globally
• Focused the research of ECSB on the Estonian Smart Specialization targets (valorization of local resources)
• Been successful in bringing in international and local competitive funding
• Increased the number of industrial partners
Based on the research of Synthetic Biology research group, more than 20 publications will arise to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific journals. ERA Chair research group has visited 25 international synthetic biology/metabolic engineering conferences while giving an oral presentation at 14 of them.

2. In addition to increased local funding, SynBioTEC activities have improved capability to compete successfully for internationally competitive research funding.
3. Contributing to the objectives of the Estonian Smart Specialization Strategy, including increased interactions with economic and social actions, and complementing support provided under the European Structural and Investment Funds.
4. SynBioTEC project has increased attractiveness of the Institute of Technology and ECSB. ERA Chair in Synthetic Biology research group has attracted high-level scientists from 13 different countries. Within the SynBioTEC project, strategic academic collaborations have been started with high-profile research groups from Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, UK, USA and Brazil.
In our Batchelor and Master level curricula, out of more than 190 students studying, approximately 90% of the students are from outside Estonia, showing high international interest in University of Tartu and Institute of Technology.

Exploitation and dissemination of the results
For dissemination, ERA Chair web page ( has been used as the main channel. Scientific achievements have been communicated also via Twitter (@LahtveeLab, @LoogLab). Additionally, press releases have been made at the national newspapers, news portals, university websites and social media channels (e.g. at the Institute’s Facebook page).
• 25 scientific conference visits (14 oral presentations)
• 4 organized conferences
• 6 workshops participated
• >10 workshops organized
• >20 peer-reviewed publications will arise directly from the project
• >50 promotional events (including participation at Opinion festivals, Researcher’s Night events, TEDx talks, Science cafeterias, Exhibitions, etc.)
• 25 visits to private companies (15 in Estonia)
• 11 articles in Estonian news
The ERA Chair in Synthetic Biology has been very successful in raising research funding. Within the project duration, we have already more than tripled the funding dedicated to the ERA Chair project, which has allowed to increase the ERA Chair research group to more than 15 members.

ERA Chair has been successful in publishing and preparing manuscripts for scientific journals with high impact (detailed information available on the webpage).

ERA Chair in Synthetic Biology has been active in disseminating their results to the public and participating debates on Bioeconomy and Synthetic Biology. In addition, numerous training events have been carried out among the industrial partners.

ERA Chair has created the Long-term Research and Innovation Strategy as well as the 7-year Investment plan for the sustainable development of the Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology into a world-known centre for the cell-factory design and bioprocess optimization. Strategic industrial collaborations have been initiated with several international industrial partners.

Management principles
ERA Chair holder Dr. Petri-Jaan Lahtvee has been actively introducing management principles at TUIT and beyond which rely on open and collaborative science and communication. This includes establishing strategic collaborations with international research groups and industrial partners. Two large-scale industrial collaborations have been already found financing (Center for Food and Fermentation Technologies AS and Graanul Invest AS), and several more are currently in progress. In addition to that, entrepreneurial activities have been highly promoted at the institute and beyond. Petri is a Founding and a Board member of the early-stage start-up incubator Startmeup ( which aims to connect students, entrepreneurial research groups, investors and funding agencies. Entrepreneurial trainings have been organized during monthly seminars, an extensive training session at the Institute’s yearly Conference and via International bio-hackathon event Bioinnovation Days 2018 ( held in spring 2018. Petri is also leading the Synthetic Biology section in writing the Estonian Road Map for Bioeconomy under the RITA Bioeconomy program, and since July 2018, he is an elected member of the Board for the Institute of Technology, University of Tartu. Petri has been involved in upgrading safety requirements for the institute and introducing new safety-related SOPs for the employees.
ERA Chairco-organized bio-hackathon event Bioinnovation Days 2018
Participation at the biggest Opinion Festival event in the Baltics States
Seminar by the CTO of the NNF Center for Biosustainability Prof. Jens Nielsen