An engineer is someone who designs, builds, and tests structures that perform a desired task. However, it seems that one kind of engineers don’t fit into this otherwise ubiquitous definition: genetic engineers. Conventional genetic engineers don’t design or build completely new organisms, they just cut-and-paste genes across species. Synthetic biology aims to change that by viewing biology as technology. It is the amalgam of precision engineering and biological complexities. As Feynman famously said and numerous blog posts on synthetic biology copied, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” The components of engineering we need to bring to biology fall into two categories.
Since their discovery, bacteriophages have contributed enormously to our understanding of molecular biology as model systems. Furthermore, bacteriophages have provided many tools that have advanced the fields of genetic engineering and synthetic biology. Here, we discuss bacteriophage-based technologies and their application to the study of infectious diseases. New strategies for engineering genomes have the potential to accelerate the design of novel phages as therapies, diagnostics, and tools. Though almost a century has elapsed since their discovery, bacteriophages continue to have a major impact on modern biological sciences, especially with the growth of multidrug-resistant bacteria and interest in the microbiome.
A movement is under way that will fast-forward the design of new plant traits. It takes inspiration from engineering and the software industry, and is being underpinned in Cambridge and Norwich by an initiative called OpenPlant.
Since there wasn’t enough news this week for a SynBioBeta Weekly Wrap I thought we could dive into a unique technology platform that reached two important milestones in early June. Deinove may be unknown to many in the synthetic biology community (it’s based in France), but the industrial biotech is pioneering a platform capable of producing ethanol, enzymes, antibiotics, chemical intermediates, and other green chemicals from processed biomass feedstocks without additives (enzymes, yeast, antibiotics). What is the secret to the platform’s envious potential? Deinove has harnessed the unique capabilities ofDeinococcus bacteria, most of which evolved to survive the harsh conditions of Earth 3.5 billion years ago. That’s sure to translate to robust industrial performance.
The international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) student competition is both a workbench and a showcase for synthetic biology. The competition is based on a simple idea: synthetic biology engineering principles of standardization, abstraction and modularity can be applied to biotech to make engineering new functions in life systems less intimidating, more accessible and more predictable. This year, iGEM will have been running for a decade, and the organization will celebrate the event with a 'giant jamboree' involving as many as 300 teams. The competition has reached a peak in terms of media impact (with a considerable number of Internet searches and a clear seasonal search pattern fitting the competition calendar (http://www.google.es/trends/explore#q=igem, accessed 17 December 2013), attendance and expectations. As former participants in iGEM (C.V. was a student attendee for three years and M.P. was a team supervisor and judge for six years), we have conducted an analysis of iGEM projects presented over the past 10 years. Our analysis reveals several challenges that the competition must face if it is to remain a flagship of synthetic biology.
Color is at the heart of our project here at Revolution Bio. Color makes things brighter, more fun, and more engaging. Color can also become a rallying point for people interested in building a common cause.
Spider silk is widely considered a superfibre, a near magical material with potential medical and military applications. The problem is that cost-effective mass production has eluded scientists for years. Until now, it seems. A Michigan firm has brought us one step closer thanks to a genetically engineered silkworm, modified to produce spider silk.
Unfolding the mystery behind DNA sequences is key to designing synthetic microorganisms for alternate fuel sources. Penn State University Assistant Professor, Howard Salis Ph.D., leveraged Amazon Web Services (AWS) to offer an online HPC portal to bring supercomputing resources to scientists the world over for this project. We sat down with Dr. Salis to learn more about this fascinating topic.
Hero.Coli is a single-player 2D top-down adventure game where the hero, a tiny robot, has to explore a living world, collect and combine functional DNA fragments in order to engineer and control the abilities of his bacterium companion. During their adventure they will have to face obstacles and challenges with the help of synthetic biology.
Plants are often thought of as the masters of photosynthesis, the process by which sunlight, carbon dioxide and water are converted into usable energy, but when it comes to efficiency, they are beaten out by a rather surprising rival: bacteria.
Synthetic biology—the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the redesign of natural biological systems for useful purposes—is contributing sustainable and innovative solutions to numerous, pressing human needs and global challenges.1 First established as a scientific discipline around 2000, technical advances in the field continue to open up new possibilities in healthcare, agriculture, chemicals, materials, energy, and bioremediation. With an expected global market of $10.8 billion by 2016, synthetic biology will play an important role in the bioeconomy and has increasing implications for future US competitiveness and employment.2
How far the US, as a nation, can go with this technology depends on our ability to bring together diverse researchers and stakeholders with a big vision, carefully considered strategy, and the support to carry it through. The frontier is still just beginning to be explored, and there is much to be done to fulfill the promise of engineering biology safely and responsibly.
According to the New York Times, synthetic biology is creating DNA out of thin air. A recent article about synthetic biology and consumer goods describes DNA synthesis as a process where “DNA is created on computers and inserted into organisms.” Computers are pretty cool and really useful in synthetic biology labs, but it takes a lot more than a computer to turn a text file full of A’s T’s C’s and G’s into DNA.
Drew Endy is an assistant professor of bioengineering and member of the faculty of the Center for International Security and Cooperation. Drew Endy helped start the newest engineering major, bioengineering, at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford. His research teams pioneered the redesign of genomes and invented the transcriptor, a simple DNA element that allows living cells to implement Boolean logic. In 2013, President Barack Obama recognized Endy for his work with the BioBricks Foundation to bootstrap a free-touse language for programming life. He has been working with designers, social scientists and others to transcend the industrialization of nature, recently co-authoring Synthetic Aesthetics (MIT Press, 2014).
Synthetic biology, heralded by some as the next biotechnology revolution, could be seriously undermined if the public is not informed about its potential benefits early on, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report today.