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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/W000326/1
Title: COMICO: Feedback Control for Microbial Communities
Principal Investigator: Steel, Professor H
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Baccuico Ltd LabMaker GmbH Vow Group PTY LTD
Department: Engineering Science
Organisation: University of Oxford
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 October 2021 Ends: 30 September 2024 Value (£): 397,660
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Bioprocess Engineering Control Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Aug 2021 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 4 and 5 August 2021 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Microbial communities are groupings of co-living organisms that perform important roles throughout nature. For example, communities of microbes live on the roots of plants, helping to support their growth, and they also inhabit the human gut, forming part of the microbiome that is fundamental to our health. Communities are highly versatile - they have evolved to thrive in many natural environments, and their members often interact to create systems in which the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Consequently, microbial communities are recognised as having a key part to play in the future of biotechnological research and development.

However, scientists and engineers have yet to take advantage of the great potential of microbial communities. A major obstacle they face is the lack of specialised technologies to help them measure, manipulate, and control communities - this makes them difficult to study in the laboratory, or exploit in their many applications beyond.

The work described in this project will address this challenge by developing first-of-their-kind control algorithms and integrated experimental technologies, designed specifically to unlock the diverse capabilities of microbial communities. This will include the creation of sensor packages that allow individual species within a community to be distinguished (without being removed or disturbed); implementation of robotic hardware for actuating changes in the community's chemical or spatial environment; and control algorithms that link sensors and actuators with mathematical models to regulate community behaviour. The capabilities of these innovative control technologies will be demonstrated in biological applications including regulating the make-up of engineered communities over time, optimising community-based biomanufacturing processes, and stabilising competition within a community by dynamically regulating mixing between its members. Each of these applications will apply control engineering in new ways to further our ability to study and manipulate complex, networked biological systems. The impact of the project will be amplified in work with industry partners, who will collaborate to deploy community control techniques in industrial bioprocesses, and support rapid and accessible dissemination of the developed technologies - accelerating their uptake across the UK's multi-billion pound Bioeconomy.

Ultimately, the control technologies developed in this project will transform the ability of scientists and engineers to study and work with microbial communities. This will help realise the potential of microbial biotechnologies to address some of our century's most pressing challenges in areas ranging from clean growth to climate change to health care.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.ox.ac.uk