From glowing fish to bacteria that can count, synthetic biologists are now able to create life forms never before seen on earth. “Historians and Ecclesiastes be damned,” says Sophia Roosth, assistant professor in the history of science. “In the first decades of the twenty-first century, a number of things are new under the sun.”
Engineers like to make things that work. And if one wants to make something work using nanoscale components—the size of proteins, antibodies, and viruses—mimicking the behavior of cells is a good place to start since cells carry an enormous amount of information in a very tiny packet. As Erik Winfree, professor of computer science, computation and neutral systems, and bioengineering, explains, "I tend to think of cells as really small robots. Biology has programmed natural cells, but now engineers are starting to think about how we can program artificial cells. We want to program something about a micron in size, finer than the dimension of a human hair, that can interact with its chemical environment and carry out the spectrum of tasks that biological things do, but according to our instructions."
It is a big dream in science: To start from scratch with simple artificial microskopic building blocks and end up with something much more complex: living systemts, novel computers or every-day materials. For decades scientists have pursied the dream of creating artificial building blocks that can self-assemble in large numbers and reassemble to take on new tasks or to remedy defects. Now researchers from University of Southern Denmark have taken a step forward to make this dream come true.
In the late 1990s, a small group of bioengineers set out to turn cells into tiny robots. Being bioengineers, they drew ideas from engineering, and envisioned building a set of modular, standard parts akin to the sensors, power source, microprocessor and actuators that enable robots to sense and respond to their surroundings. Those early efforts spurred a wave of optimism about the incredible potential of synthetic biology.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego say they have developed a new genetic platform that allows efficient production of naturally occurring molecules. They then used it to produce a novel antibiotic compound, they add.
Spider silk of fantastical, superhero strength is finally speeding toward commercial reality — at least a synthetic version of it is. The material, which is five times stronger than steel, could be used in products from bulletproof vests to medical implants, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). C&EN is the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society.
In vitro recombination methods have enabled one-step construction of large DNA sequences from multiple parts. Although synthetic biological circuits can in principle be assembled in the same fashion, they typically contain repeated sequence elements such as standard promoters and terminators that interfere with homologous recombination. Here we use a computational approach to design synthetic, biologically inactive unique nucleotide sequences (UNSes) that facilitate accurate ordered assembly. Importantly, our designed UNSes make it possible to assemble parts with repeated terminator and insulator sequences, and thereby create insulated functional genetic circuits in bacteria and mammalian cells. Using UNS-guided assembly to construct repeating promoter-gene-terminator parts, we systematically varied gene expression to optimize production of a deoxychromoviridans biosynthetic pathway in Escherichia coli. We then used this system to construct complex eukaryotic AND-logic gates for genomic integration into embryonic stem cells. Construction was performed by using a standardized series of UNS-bearing BioBrick-compatible vectors, which enable modular assembly and facilitate reuse of individual parts. UNS-guided isothermal assembly is broadly applicable to the construction and optimization of genetic circuits and particularly those requiring tight insulation, such as complex biosynthetic pathways, sensors, counters and logic gates.
Synthetic peptides are showing promise in their ability to prevent out of control tumour growth—and according to researchers are fast becoming the core of new therapeutic opportunities for cancer treatment.
Water covers more than 70% of Earth’s surface but less than 2% of it is available as freshwater. Many of the driest regions of our planet are close to the sea but irrigating fields with seawater – even if diluted – leads to build-up of salt in the soil to levels toxic to all common food crops. Current desalination technologies, such as membrane-based reverse osmosis, are successfully used in large-scale desalination plants, but they are expensive and energy inefficient.
In addition to a standard gene synthesis service, IDT offers a novel, rapid, and reliable method to build and clone the genes you need at a fraction of the cost of full gene synthesis services. gBlocks® Gene Fragments are double-stranded, sequence-verified DNA blocks of length 125--750 bp. Their high sequence fidelity and rapid delivery time make gBlocks Gene Fragments ideal for a large range of synthetic biology applications. In this video, Dr Adam Clore reviews a variety of uses of gBlocks fragments, including CRISPR-based genome modification, qPCR and HRM controls, and the assembly of gene fragments using the Gibson Assembly® Method.
As a possible new anticancer strategy, synthetic biologists have engineered bacteria to secrete a toxic proteinthat kills surrounding cells when exposed to blue or red light (ACS Synth. Biol. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/sb400174s). These bacteria could someday help doctors specifically attack cancer cells and limit damage to healthy ones, the researchers say.