University of Tartu to establish a center for developing designer cells

Mart Loog, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology of the University of Tartu (Postimees/Scanpix)
2/18/2015 4:20 PM
Category: Sci-Tech

The University of Tartu (UT) has received 2.5 million euros from the ERA Chair measure of the European Commission to create a new synthetic biology center at the Institute of Technology. It aims to construct cells with new functions that may in the future change entire industries.

According to the professor of molecular systems biology of the University of Tartu and project coordinator Mart Loog, the objective of synthetic biology is to reprogram the biomolecular systems in cells, thus constructing cells with new functions.

“In the future, such designer cells will change entire industries, as they can be programmed to fulfill various practical tasks, such as the production of chemicals or medicines or the diagnosis of diseases,” said Loog.

The ERA Chair funding will allow the university to bring necessary competence to the center by recruiting a team of internationally acclaimed specialists.

“The situation at the Institute of Technology is rather unique, as we have excellent laboratories for all main cell systems used in synthetic biology: mammalian cells, plant cells, bacteria and yeast. In addition, we have a strong support in engineering thanks to the intelligent materials and devices lab. So what might have been considered a weird combination in the first years of the institute may become an ideal setting for bringing biology and engineering together under the name of synthetic biology in the future,” said Loog.

The center is planned to include a core laboratory with specific equipment that allows research labs and spin-off companies easily test the designer cell prototypes they have created so that they could arrive at their real implementation faster and with less financial cost.

The project will also contribute to increasing the quality of doctoral and master’s studies and have an important role in the new English-taught bachelor’s curriculum in Science and Technology.

Tallinn University too earned an ERA Chair grant this year to promote research-based education innovation in Estonia.

M. Oll

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