TARPOL: Targeting environmental pollution with engineered microbial systems á la carte
Proposal Abstract: Synthetic Biology deals with the rational combination of biological properties with central elements of engineering design. We argue that by merging the genetic tool box already available with disciplines such as electrical, mechanical, or chemical engineering and computer sciences, there is an extraordinary opportunity to take a fresh approach to longstanding environmental pollution problems through a vigorous application of modelling techniques and organizing the development of novel biological (e.g. catalytic) systems along a hierarchical architecture with defined and standardized interfaces. However, this endeavour faces 3 major bottlenecks that this Coordination Action attempts to overcome: [i] The scientific and technical communities of European contributors to the application of SB to environmental issues (i.e., Environmental Biotechnologists, Bioinformaticians and experts on the Origin-of-Life subject) have so far failed to recognise their latent capacity to shape a fresh discipline at their very interface, [ii] The new field still misses a comprehensive language and a shared conceptual frame for description of minimally functional biological parts (specifically dealing with catalytic properties and regulatory circuits) and [iii] The development of the SB field touches upon social sensitivities related to recreating life-in-the-test-tube, which threats with a re-enactment of the controversy on GMOs and thus it worries off the needed industrial ease in the field.
To tackle all these challenges, TARPOL proposes a dynamic 2-year programme of activities, run by a large collection of stakeholders in the field and aimed at coordinating the so far fragmented efforts to direct this emerging discipline into the most industrially beneficial and socially viable directions. The trademark of this Project will thus be the energization and mobilization of large portion of European scientific, technical and social professionals to empower a new capacity to exploit properties present in biological systems for prevention, monitoring and remediation of environmental pollution. In this context, TARPOL will recruit the required environmental competences from neighbouring disciplines and will develop a number of material and computational resources for advanced refactoring of biological systems. Furthermore, we will establish a consensus frame to standardizations of procedures and parts and will proactively pursue the awareness and eventual insertion of SB into the Environmental Biotechnology context by exploring its industrial interface. TARPOL will also look into the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of foreseeable applications of synthetic biology, and use that information to steer the future developmen in synthetic biology. Finally, we will pursue and justify the establishment of a solid European Research Agenda on SB-for-the-Environment at the service of implementing the KBBE (Knowledge-based Bio-Economy) vision in Europe.
Principal investigator: Dr. Markus Schmidt