Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Simple baking ingredient rises to the engineering challenge

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 25 May 2017

Bioengineers from London’s Imperial College may have found a way of turning regular baker’s yeast into the mini medicine factories of the future.

The team have re-engineered individual yeast cells to produce a special type of the antibiotic penicillin, using natural compounds called ‘nonribosomal peptides’. Usually produced by bacteria and fungi, these natural products form the basis of most modern antibiotics. With the vast array of antibiotics on offer however, many bacteria are developing a resistance to drugs, giving rise to a host of new superbugs. In an effort to beat antimicrobial resistance, engineers must find new ways to create antibiotic drugs.

‘Cut and paste’ genetics

By snipping the DNA out of a penicillin-producing, filamentous fungus and inserting it into yeast cells, the team were able to trick the yeast into performing the same job. Not only did the yeast produce the antibiotic itself, it then expelled the penicillin out of the cell and into the solution around it. As well as saving the team the effort of extracting the antibiotic, this also meant they could easily test to see if it worked. Their initial experiments showed the now bacteria-fighting yeast successfully tackled streptococcus bacteria in the area surrounding it.

Dr Tom Ellis, a researcher in synthetic biology and synthetic genome engineering at Imperial, explained: “Humans have been experimenting with yeast for thousands of years. From brewing beer to getting our bread to rise, and more recently for making compounds like anti-malarial drugs, yeast is the microscopic workhorse behind many processes.”

Alongside its delicious applications in the kitchen, yeast is also remarkably easy to genetically engineer. Simply by cutting and pasting DNA from another organism, yeast can take on that organisms desired behaviours, including making antibiotics.

First, the yeast cells undergo a complex chemical reaction, stitching together the base, or backbone, of the peptide from naturally occurring molecules. Then fungal enzymes, produced by the transplanted fungal DNA, can turn these bases into the active antibiotic.

It’s still early days…

The team is keen, however, to note that the research is still young and so far, only small amounts of antibiotic penicillin have been produced by the yeast. Their next step will be to adapt the process to produce commercially viable quantities of the antibiotic.

Dr Ali Awan, a co-author on the study from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering explained that fungi have the advantage of millions of years of evolution behind them. “We, scientists, have only been working with yeast in this context for a handful of years,” he said. “But now that we’ve developed the blueprint for coaxing yeast to make penicillin, we are confident we can further refine this method to create novel drugs in the future.”

“Penicillin was first discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, which is now part of Imperial,” added Dr Ellis. “He also predicted the rise of antibiotic resistance soon after making his discovery. We hope, in some small way, to build on his legacy, collaborating with industry and academia to develop the next generation of antibiotics using synthetic biology techniques.”

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How Collaborative Engineering Can Transform the Future of Cities

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 23 May 2017

Newspapers, magazines and social media sites are buzzing with the latest ideas and inventions that will bring the city of the future to life. For these ideas to be realised, however, innovation needs a collaborative approach.

Not only does the science of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things need to be fully developed, but so does the day-to-day infrastructure of our urban environments. Here’s how collaborative engineering can transform the future of cities.

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How I got here: An interview with Orla Murphy

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 17 May 2017

Orla Murphy is a forward model quality engineer working in Jaguar Land Rover’s electrical quality team. This role looks at improving the quality of electrical components in current lines, as well as improving processes to design better quality electrical elements in future vehicles. Previously, Orla worked as an audio engineer, bringing together her love of science, maths and music to optimise the sound systems in Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles.

Why did you first become interested in engineering?

I always enjoyed maths and science lessons at school – and was good at both subjects – so when I was 16, I entered the BT Young Scientist competition in Ireland. I really loved the experience of scientifically investigating a problem and coming up with a solution. It really sparked my interest in science and engineering as a future career option.

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Hitachi, Ltd. join the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering as latest corporate donor

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 16 May 2017

The world’s most prestigious engineering prize, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize), today announces Hitachi, Ltd. as their latest corporate donor.

Hitachi, Ltd. joins BAE Systems, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid, Nissan Motor Corporation, Shell UK Ltd., Siemens UK, Sony, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel Europe and Toshiba in supporting the prize.

Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, said:

‘I am delighted to welcome Hitachi, Ltd. to the list of international companies whose generous support enables the work of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Hitachi has a proud history of excellence and innovation in engineering, not only in Japan but throughout the world. They share our belief that in showcasing the heights that the engineering profession reaches and the diversity of the world’s leading engineers we can encourage a new generation to meet the challenges of the next decades.

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Biology class, with added robots

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 12 May 2017

Encouraging children and young adults to think about a career in engineering often seems like an uphill struggle. However, some areas of engineering can prove more appealing than others, with many taking an interest before they have even left school.

Initiatives such as Code Club, Fire Tech Camp and Camp Invention are introducing children as young as five to the basics of programming and software engineering. With cheap gadgets like the Raspberry Pi and BBC Microbit easily available, coupled with the simplicity of Scratch programming, school children are more computer literate than ever before.

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SolarLeaf: Powering engineering with biology

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 10 May 2017

Nestled in the Wilhelmsburg quarter of Hamburg and cradled by the River Elbe, lives a building like no other. Shrouded in 129 ‘leaves’, the emerald exterior of the building lives, breathes and grows.

A pioneering project from engineering giants, Arup, the building houses the world’s first photobioreactor façade, using photosynthesis to heat and power the homes inside.

Ove Arup, a trailblazer in engineering and architectural collaboration, is responsible for bringing some of the world’s most iconic structures to life. Examples of his work include the beautifully art deco, if biologically impractical, penguin pool at ZSL London Zoo; the world-famous overlapping sails of the Sydney Opera House; and the inside-out Centre Pompidou in Paris.

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Interactive denim: Google’s Project Jacquard

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 8 May 2017

Google’s Advanced Technology and Project Group, or ATAP, has developed an innovative user- controlled technology; embedding sensors and feedback devices into clothing.

As a small but intense research and development incubator, ATAP project leaders have just 24 months to turn their ideas into finished products.  ‘Project Jacquard’ plans to integrate connected electronics directly into garments, allowing the wearer to interact with their mobile device simply by tapping their sleeve.

The novel concept uses thin metallic, and therefore conductive, alloys combined with a mixture of natural and synthetic fibres. By blending conductive threads with silks, cottons and polyesters, the team can weave touch and gesture interactivity seamlessly into any item of clothing.

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The power of collaboration

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 3 May 2017

As The Engineer magazine launches its annual Collaborate to Innovate (C2I) awards, editor Jon Excell reflects on the importance of engineering collaboration.

UK engineering has many strengths, but arguably one of its greatest assets is its strong and growing culture of collaboration: a willingness to share knowledge across organisations; an understanding that by tapping into external areas of expertise, engineering teams can achieve far more than they could ever do alone.

The Engineer magazine  – which reports on technological breakthroughs from across the broad spectrum of UK engineering – has something of a front row seat on this process, and it’s difficult to think of a major technological innovation or successful project in recent years that hasn’t been underpinned by collaboration.

As we look at the technological trends that are shaping the future – such as the rise of autonomy and connectivity or the advance of low carbon vehicles – it’s clear that the boundaries between once distinct areas of engineering are becoming increasingly blurred, and that cross-disciplinary collaboration will become increasingly key to solving the challenges that we face.

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