Robots in the Synthetic Biology Research Centre

A state of the art robotics suite has been installed at the Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) Nottingham. The equipment, worth over £1.1m will enable world leading synthetic biology research. Scientists will use the robots to engineer large numbers of bacterial strains to turbo-charge their work towards creating chemicals for industry and transport fuels from waste materials. For example one of the foci of the SBRC is the creation of Cupriavidus necator strains capable of producing chemicals such as 3-Hydroxypropionic acid from waste single carbon gases, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Furthermore the robots will be used to help advance our understanding of native bacterial CRISPR systems. This technology will play an important role in helping us modify pathways to improve the metabolic flux towards chemical products such as ethanol or 2,3 butanediol. 

Thanks to its modular construction our robotics platform is also well suited to help each of our researchers at different stages of their work. For example, a researcher may need to test hundreds of primer pair combinations to select a desired PCR product; or they may need to screen hundreds of bacterial colonies in their search for a desired DNA fragment or gene with required properties. Currently these types of experiments can take weeks or even months to accomplish. Using the robotic platform these types of work will take less than a week. Additionally, thanks to built-in Data Acquisition, Reporting Tools and a barcoding system, the scientists can easily access and extract all the necessary information about protocols or samples at any future time point.

The robotic platforms enable automation of common pipelines in molecular biology including plasmid assembly, transformation of bacteria, colony picking and screening. The SBRC-Nottingham will work with other researchers in the University and the wider area in order to fully utilise the high-throughput capabilities of the equipment. The platforms contain liquid handling robots, thermocyclers, a colony picker and spreader, incubators, shakers and a plate reader, connected by a robotic arm.

Robot 1

Gene assembly, PCR, DNA size selection, cherry picking & quality control.

Colony picking, culture plating, sample collection, inoculation, & analyte purification.


Nigel Minton, Director of the SBRC-Nottingham said: ‘This is a fantastic addition to our research capability. The robots will allow us to not only automate many routine procedures but carry out 100s of experiments in parallel –something we can’t do currently. This will free up our specialist and highly-skilled research teams to focus on the more academically challenging aspects of their research and enhance our progress towards using bacteria to make chemicals and fuels for us sustainably’.

More information is available from:

The SBRC Nottingham is a BBSRC/EPSRC joint funded research centre led by Professor Nigel Minton and employs approximately 120 researchers including academics, research and technical staff and PhD students. The main location for the SBRC is the University’s flagship CBS Building on the University Park campus, Nottingham. In the UK, six synthetic biology research centres have been funded by the government in Bristol, Cambridge/Norwich, Manchester, Edinburgh, Warwick and Nottingham. These centres are part of a £200m investment in Synthetic Biology by the UK government.

Beckman Coulter was selected as the supplier of the robotic platform after a competitive tender process.

They are working closely with the SBRC during the installation of the equipment. Contacts: