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15.04.2019

New Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology launched

Building stripped-down versions of life using protocells, genome delivery systems and synthetic cytoskeletons comprise some of the groundbreaking research due to take place at a new Centre launched at the University of Bristol today [Wednesday 27 March]. The Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, a partnership between the University of Bristol and the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (MPG) in Germany, aims to advance the future of health and medicine by understanding the fundamental nature of life.

Minimal biology is a new emerging field at the interface between the physical and life sciences. It aims to design and build artificial cells, minimal genomes, virus-like nanodevices and new cellular scaffolds, and seeks to understand the foundations of life and how it arose from non-living matter.

Led by Bristol Professors Imre Berger (Biochemistry), Stephen Mann (Chemistry) and Dek Woolfson (Chemistry and Biochemistry), and Professors Joachim Spatz (Heidelberg), Tanja Weil (Mainz) and Petra Schwille (Munich; member of IBB network) at Max Planck Institutes in Germany, the Centre will be based in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. A paramount objective is to train early career scientists in minimal biology and biodesign.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, said: "The establishment of this internationally recognised centre of excellence in this exciting and fast-emerging scientific field is testament to the expertise at Bristol and our German partners. The work of this Centre has the potential to provide the breakthrough knowledge needed to address some of the most complex challenges in fundamental science." 

Professor Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, added: "Joining forces is the only path to success in this vast research field. In the same vein that the human brain can't be understood as one single scientific challenge to be solved by one single research group at one certain point in time – in the same vein the construction of artificial bio-functions is likewise a maximally diverse field of research. We do not deal with a certain question but rather with platform technologies, with a toolbox that will allow us to start a totally new way of doing science."

Professor Joachim Spatz said: "We will strive to answer the question of what the defining principles of life are and how they may be partly engineered de novo by intelligent design. These are among the foremost questions of our time."

An event held at the University's Life Sciences Building today [Wednesday 27 March] marked the official launch of the new Max Planck-Bristol Centre (MPBC) for Minimal Biology.

The Centre, which is underpinned by BBSRC, Wellcome and ERC-funded research, will be presenting their work at the British Council Going Global 2019 Showcase in Berlin in May 2019.  Research at MPBC will start in August 2019.

Source: University of Bristol, Press release, 27.03.2019

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Max Planck Bristol Centre Directors, L to R: Professor Steven Mann (UoB), Professor Tanja Weil (Mainz), Professor Imre Berger (UoB), Professor Joachim Spatz (Heidelberg), Professor Petra Schwille (Munich). Professor Dek Woolfson (UoB) is also MBPC Director.

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