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Call for Evidence

Written submissions


The Government defines engineering biology as the design, scaling and commercialisation of biology-derived products and services that can transform sectors or produce existing products more sustainably.[1] It can use the tools of synthetic biology, including but not limited to gene editing, and involves its application and commercialisation across sectors. These engineered biological systems can be used to manipulate information, assemble materials, process chemicals, produce energy, provide food, and help maintain or enhance human health and the environment.  

Engineering Biology has also been defined by the Council on Science and Technology as the application of rigorous engineering principles to biology, enabling the construction of new or redesigned biological systems, such as cells or proteins, with applications across numerous sectors, including food, materials, and health. 

In the Science and Technology Framework, published in February 2023, Engineering Biology was identified as one of the “five critical technologies” that the UK should focus on.[2] In December 2023, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published its National Vision for Engineering Biology, setting out its approach to engineering biology policy and committing to invest £2 billion over the next 10 years.[3] In March 2024, DSIT and UKRI announced funding for two new Doctoral Training Centres in the field of Engineering Biology.[4]

Purpose of the inquiry 

The Committee seeks to understand which technologies fall under the umbrella of engineering biology, and what its potential is, particularly in delivering UK economic growth through commercialisation and for improvements to public services. It wishes to explore what the key applications for engineering biology might be; how realistic some of the claims made are; which developments are already underway, which areas of engineering biology the UK excels at and which it is well placed to exploit; and what more needs to happen to ensure that the science developed in the UK benefits our public services and the UK economy. The Committee is also interested in the ethical, regulatory and safety implications of the rapid developments in engineering biology. The Committee’s findings will inform a report which makes conclusions and policy recommendations to the Government and other key organisations. 




There is no requirement to answer all questions in your submission; sub-questions provide further detail on the areas of evidence and lines of inquiry we would be interested in, but do not need to be answered individually. We would prefer submissions that answered 2–3 questions in the specific area of your expertise well rather than attempting to answer all in detail. The Committee is seeking evidence on the following questions:

1.  What are the UK’s key strengths in the area of engineering biology?

  • Are there any notable research institutes or groups or key projects?Are there innovative companies, start-ups, or spin-outs that you think are of particular promise or significance using engineering biology in the UK today?
  • What is the current economic impact of engineering biology on the UK and what might its potential economic impact be?

2.  What are the key applications for engineering biology?

  • Can you give examples of particularly exciting or interesting applications? In particular, applications which could be taken forward or are being worked on in the UK?
  • On what timescales might the different applications for engineering biology be realised? Which applications are emerging now, and what is on the horizon in the next 5–10 years or further ahead?
  • Are there areas of application for engineering biology where the hype exceeds the reality, or where significant barriers remain?
  • Where does engineering biology have the potential to add value over processes that are currently used? What is the nature of this added value (e.g. throughput, sustainability, range of processes that are possible)? Which industries are most likely to be affected?
  • How does the UK compare to other countries, such as Germany, the US, or China, in terms of investment and policy activity, as well as areas of specialism?
  • Which applications for waste biorefining and the circular economy merit particular attention?

3.  How can Government policy support the development of engineering biology?

  • Does the Government’s “National Vision for Engineering Biology” set out the right priorities for government to develop the engineering biology field in the UK? Was there anything missing from the strategy that should have been included? Does it build appropriately on earlier approaches to synthetic biology and life sciences?
  • The Government has committed to spend £2 billion over the next 10 years on engineering biology. Is this scale of subsidy sufficient to be competitive? Where should this funding be focused to best support engineering biology in the UK? Is it more important to support facilities, skills, or flagship research projects? Which specific skills or facilities are most needed?
  • What should the role of UKRI be in supporting engineering biology? Which research councils are most involved in funding it? Are there areas where more could be done to support interdisciplinary research? What would the best mechanisms be for achieving this?
  • Which Government departments, and non-departmental public bodies, are engaged or should be engaged with engineering biology?
  • Which are the key enabling technologies that have developed in recent years that have enabled wider applications for engineering biology?
  • Is the UK getting the best value out of its existing facilities, such as the biofoundaries? If not, why not? 

4.  How can the UK maximise the economic potential of developments in engineering biology? 

  • Who is investing in engineering biology in the UK, and what is the scale of the investment activity right now? Where are the areas with significant economic and start-up activity?
  • How should the Government best support engineering biology startups to scale-up in the UK? Are there specific facilities that it would be helpful to invest in? Are the financial support mechanisms for start-ups and scale-ups appropriate and sufficient, or could they be reformed?
  • How well are Innovate UK, British Business Bank and British Infrastructure Bank supporting the commercialisation of engineering biology in the UK?
  • Are there any elements of UK taxation policy which could support engineering biology? How does it fit into efforts to increase investment in UK technology companies, such as the Mansion House reforms?
  • Are there opportunities for engineering biology to be used to improve public services, or opportunities for public procurement to support engineering biology, which the Government should consider?
  • Where could engineering biology improve productivity (GDP/capita) or provide value-added in the UK?
  • Does the UK need large companies in the field to help form the ecosystem in which spinouts and start-ups can thrive? If so, does it have the right ingredients for a healthy engineering biology ecosystem? Are major industrial players investing in engineering biology?
  • Given that the applications of engineering biology can include applications such as bulk materials or chemical production, are the right support mechanisms in place to support this type of investment in the UK? Or should the UK focus on high-value-add but relatively low through-put applications?
  • What can the Government do to encourage investors to invest in engineering biology and is there a need for investors with more scientific expertise?
  • How does the UK’s approach to engineering biology, commercialisation and translation compare to other nations, such as Germany, China and the US? Are there specific areas the UK should look to focus on in order to gain or maintain a competitive advantage?
  • Is there a danger that engineering biology advances developed in the UK are exploited overseas?

5.  What are the risks posed to society by engineering biology?  

  • There are regulatory, ethical, and safety concerns that go along with any dual-use technology, particularly in the case of gene-editing. What are the major areas of concern?
  • Does engineering biology pose national security risks and if so, what are they? Is the Government’s 2023 Biosecurity Strategy sufficient to address these risks and, if not, what more does the Government need to do to?
  • What early warning systems are in place, both nationally and internationally, to monitor whether engineering biology is being misused? Are these sufficient, or is further regulation needed, for example setting out what DNA synthesis technology can be used for?

6.  How should engineering biology be regulated?  

  • Who regulates engineering biology in the UK and internationally?
  • Is the current regulatory framework adequate? Does it strike the right balance between encouraging innovation and ensuring safety? Where should any reforms be enacted?
  • How are the ethical, safety, and national security concerns raised in Q5 addressed under current regulations? Are regulators sufficiently independent from Government and from industry?
  • What implications would rapid progress in engineering biology have for existing regulatory structures, for example around intellectual property?
  • Has regulation in this area evolved quickly enough? Are regulators sufficiently resourced, in terms of expertise and budgets, to keep up with the pace of change of science? How does scientific evidence feed into regulation of engineering biology? What should the Government do to ensure the regulatory environment is able to keep up?
  • Is there a tension between the desire to support open-access science – for example in genome sequencing, genetic datasets, engineering biology platforms and techniques – and a risk that IP developed in the UK is exploited elsewhere?

 7.  What are the possible barriers and limitations to good and effective use of engineering biology? 

  • What is already known about the likely limitations of engineering biology due to limits in our scientific understanding? Are there areas that would benefit from more fundamental research before those limitations might be understood? Are some suggested applications implausible?
  • What more can the Government do to foster public understanding of engineering biology? Is public acceptability of these technologies a barrier to deployment in the UK?
  • Does the UK have a sufficient skills base to harness the potential of engineering biology?
  • What barriers are there to incumbent manufacturers making use of engineering biology techniques? Is there anything the Government can do to address these?
  • What are some of the key feedstocks and enabling technologies for engineering biology? Do these pose any risks to the supply chain for a bioeconomy that should be considered and addressed? Are there applications which are less viable in the UK due to a lack of feedstocks?
  • Does lack of land (e.g. for biofuels or growing GM crops) or dedicated lab space inhibit the growth of engineering biology? If so, what should the Government do to address this?


[1]  Department for Science, Innovation& Technology, National vision for engineering biology (5 December 2023): [accessed 2 April 2024]

[2]  Department for Science, Innovation& Technology, The UK Science and Technology Framework (Updated 9 February 2024): [accessed 2 April 2024]

[3]  Department for Science, Innovation& Technology, National vision for engineering biology ( 5 December 2023): [accessed 2 April 2024]

[4]  UK Research and Innovation, £1 billion doctoral training investment announced – UKRI (12 March 2024): [accessed 2 April 2024]


ANNEX: Guidance for Submissions 

This is a public call for written evidence to be submitted to the Committee. The deadline for submissions is 11.59pm on Tuesday 7 May 2024. 

Written submissions should be submitted online, as a Word document. If you have difficulty submitting online, please contact the Committee staff by email at or by telephoning 020 7219 5750. 

Short, concise submissions are preferred. Scientific and technical content should be accessible to non-specialist readers. Responses should not be longer than five sides of A4 in size 12 font. There is no requirement to answer all questions in your submission. You may tell us about issues that we have not specifically asked about, but that are relevant to the topic of the inquiry. 

All submissions made through the written submission form will be acknowledged automatically by email. Once you have received acknowledgement that the evidence has been accepted you will receive a further email, and at this point you may publicise or publish your evidence yourself. In doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee, and you should be aware that your publication or re-publication of your evidence may not be protected by parliamentary privilege. 

Evidence which is accepted by the Committee may be published online at any stage; when it is so published it becomes subject to parliamentary copyright and is protected by parliamentary privilege. The Committee cannot accept any submissions that have not been prepared specifically in response to this call for evidence, or that have been published elsewhere. 

Personal contact details will be removed from evidence before publication, but will be retained by the Committee Office and used for specific purposes relating to the Committee’s work, for instance to seek additional information. 

Persons who submit written evidence, and others, may be invited to give oral evidence. Oral evidence is usually given in public at Westminster and broadcast online; transcripts are produced and published online. Persons invited to give oral evidence will be notified separately of the procedure to be followed and the topics likely to be discussed. 

Substantive communications to the Committee about the inquiry should be addressed through the Clerk of the Committee, whether or not they are intended to constitute formal evidence to the Committee. 

This is a public call for evidence. Please bring it to the attention of other groups and individuals who may not have received a copy directly. 

Diversity comes in many forms and hearing a range of different perspectives means that committees are better informed and can more effectively scrutinise public policy and legislation. Committees can undertake their role most effectively when they hear from a wide range of individuals, sectors or groups in society affected by a particular policy or piece of legislation. We encourage anyone with experience or expertise of an issue under investigation by a select committee to share their views with the committee, with the full knowledge that their views have value and are welcome. If you think someone you know would have an interest in contributing to the inquiry, please pass this on to them. 

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This call for written evidence has now closed.

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