The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the preeminent, multinational, undergraduate synthetic biology competition that takes place each year. The competition focuses on engineering aspects of synthetic biology as a foundation to develop research skills and foster collaboration among student participants. The duration of the competition is fairly short, with most of the work occurring over the summer months, when most students take time off from their studies. It is truly impressive the types of relevant world issues for which the teams are able to address and test solution in such a short time.
A project begun some 13 years ago by Jay Keasling, the Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences at Berkeley Lab and the CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), was culminated with an announcement on August 12 from the partnership of Sanofi, the multinational pharmaceutical company, and PATH, the nonprofit global health organization. Sanofi/PATH announced the shipment of 1.7 million treatments of semi-synthetic artemisinin to malaria-endemic countries in Africa. Unlike conventional artemisinin, which is derived from the bark of the sweet wormwood plant, this synthetic version of the World Health Organization’s frontline antimalarial drug is derived from yeast. The addition of a microbial-based source of artemisinin to the botanical source provides a stable new option for treating the millions of victims who are stricken with malaria each year, most of them children.
Recombination-based DNA construction methods, such as Gibson assembly, have made it possible to easily and simultaneously assemble multiple DNA parts, and they hold promise for the development and optimization of metabolic pathways and functional genetic circuits. Over time, however, these pathways and circuits have become more complex, and the increasing need for standardization and insulation of genetic parts has resulted in sequence redundancies—for example, repeated terminator and insulator sequences—that complicate recombination-based assembly. We and others have recently developed DNA assembly methods, which we refer to collectively as unique nucleotide sequence (UNS)–guided assembly, in which individual DNA parts are flanked with UNSs to facilitate the ordered, recombination-based assembly of repetitive sequences. Here we present a detailed protocol for UNS-guided assembly that enables researchers to convert multiple DNA parts into sequenced, correctly assembled constructs, or into high-quality combinatorial libraries in only 2–3 d. If the DNA parts must be generated from scratch, an additional 2–5 d are necessary. This protocol requires no specialized equipment and can easily be implemented by a student with experience in basic cloning techniques.
Synthetic Biology promises low-cost, exponentially scalable products and global health solutions in the form of self-replicating organisms, or “living devices.” As these promises are realized, proof-of-concept systems will gradually migrate from tightly regulated laboratory or industrial environments into private spaces as, for instance, probiotic health products, food, and even do-it-yourself bioengineered systems. What additional steps, if any, should be taken before releasing engineered self-replicating organisms into a broader user space? In this review, we explain how studies of genetically modified organisms lay groundwork for the future landscape of biosafety. Early in the design process, biological engineers are anticipating potential hazards and developing innovative tools to mitigate risk. Here, we survey lessons learned, ongoing efforts to engineer intrinsic biocontainment, and how different stakeholders in synthetic biology can act to accomplish best practices for biosafety.
As novel the aims of the researchers and beautiful the products of genetic engineering might be, the molecular cloning procedures are long-drawn and frustratingly boring. While more than 600 restriction enzymes (called molecular scissors since they cut DNA at specific sites) are commercially available to cut genes from different sources at different sites, each combination of restriction enzymes requires a different buffer composition. Meanwhile, codon optimization is a task that researchers must perform while keeping in mind the gene source and the protocol. In the end, if the target gene or genes don’t get expressed, it is usually very difficult for most labs to figure out what went wrong. Available bioinformatics tools are complex and not very user-friendly.
New standards within the synthetic biology community may help lift the field from pure research to practical applications, according to an international group of researchers, including a computational synthetic biologist at Virginia Tech.
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.
With support from Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures, a group of young scientists out of the University of Calgary are working on a project that might help change the world. Team FerriTALEs have developed a DNA-based biosensor to detect the presence of E. coli in cattle. Using the cutting edge science of synthetic biology, hear how these young people are helping to solve the world's problems.