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Synthetic biology covers the design and construction of novel biological components, systems and processes – that are not already known to exist in nature – together with the re-design of existing biological systems. Synthetic biology is interdisciplinary, drawing on precepts and practices from a wide range of methodologies and disciplines, including the techniques of genetic engineering. Although it can be sometimes difficult to demarcate synthetic biology from other established research areas, many within the scientific community believe that, by applying the principles of engineering and chemical design to biological systems, synthetic biology will lead to new applications of considerable societal value. Among the potential products and services are new systems for energy, materials and chemicals production; medical diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines; and innovative approaches to the clean up of hazardous waste. Synthetic biology is important for Europe. There is significant potential for the European Union (EU) to invest in synthetic biology research and to capitalise on the emergent innovations.