With its donation of 11.5 million euro, the Werner Siemens Foundation has facilitated the launch of the teaching and research domain Synthetic Biotechnology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). This gives the new TUM School of Bioengineering (MSB) a strong accent as an Integrative Research Center. The foundation contract was signed yesterday in Munich.
Synthetic biotechnology integrates the methodological research approaches of biochemistry, bioinformatics, catalysis, and industrial or "white" biotechnology. The scientific groundwork was done by a research team headed by the chemist Prof. Thomas Brück, who, following an industrial career, received a call to the newly created Chair of Industrial Biocatalysis at TUM.
The grant, through which the Werner Siemens Foundation creates this new focus, will be used to upgrade the laboratories in Garching, fund the new chair for Synthetic Biotechnology and create an associated student/teacher laboratory to attract particularly talented students.
An existing highlight is the algae laboratory on the Ludwig-Bölkow Campus in Ottobrunn, which was recently opened as a worldwide novelty. It serves the technical cultivation of algae as an innovative, environmentally-friendly raw material for aircraft fuels and industrial chemicals.
From greenhouse gas to insulin
"We dream of biological systems that produce insulin, for example, out of light and carbon dioxide," explains Prof. Thomas Brück. "To this end we need to couple an energy-supplying photosynthetic unit with an insulin-producing system. Current research results indicate that this strategy is promising."
With the advanced methodologies of bioinformatics, simulating biological processes and making predictions is becoming evermore viable. Coupling feedback from computer simulations and experimental data acquisition accelerates gains in knowledge and insight.
On this basis, a central task of synthetic biotechnology is to illuminate structure-function relationships in enzymatic systems. One goal of this research is the development of artificial enzymes with customized catalytic activity and artificial cell systems with optimally structured metabolic networks that enable the mass and energy-efficient production of chemical products.
Foundation for pioneering initiatives
The Werner Siemens Foundation fosters research and teaching in the fields of technology and natural sciences, education, training and the promotion of young talents. A prerequisite for a funding priority is that pioneering results have been previously achieved.
"With this new center for synthetic biotechnology, we are strengthening and bundling our competencies in catalyst research, white biotechnology and bioinformatics to form a hitherto unrivaled new branch of research," says TUM President Wolfgang A. Hermann. "Synthetic biotechnology applies the understanding of biological processes to then targeted development of biological synthesis processes in industrial applications. This approach puts us ahead of our time."