Wednesday 18 January 2006
Definition: "Synthetic biology" refers to the design and creation of components of biological systems not found in the natural world as well as the redesign and fabrication of existing biological systems.
Synthetic biology is a new area of biological research that combines science and engineering. It encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies, and disciplines with a variety of definitions.
What they all have in common, however, is that they see synthetic biology as the design and construction of new biological functions and systems not found in nature.
Synthetic biologists come in two broad classes:
One uses unnatural molecules to reproduce emergent behaviours from natural biology, with the goal of creating artificial life.
The other seeks interchangeable parts from natural biology to assemble into systems that function unnaturally.
Either way, a synthetic goal forces scientists to cross uncharted ground to encounter and solve problems that are not easily encountered through analysis. This drives the emergence of new paradigms in ways that analysis cannot easily do.
An important aim of synthetic biology is to uncover the design principles of natural biological systems through the rational design of gene circuits and protein circuits.
Synthetic biological devices allow to grasp intuitively the ranges of behaviour generated by simple biological circuits, such as linear cascades and interlocking feedback loops, as well as to exert control over natural processes, such as gene expression and population dynamics.
Eventually, it might be bacteria delivering gene repair packages, and the gene repairs might be as varied as treatments for phenylketonuria to cystic fibrosis.
Considering all that’s been done lately, a world where one can opt-out of genetic diseases doesn’t seem so far away.
Synthetic biology: understanding biological design from synthetic circuits. Mukherji S, van Oudenaarden A. Nat Rev Genet. 2009 Dec;10(12):859-71. PMID: 19898500
Synthetic biology. Benner SA, Sismour AM. Nat Rev Genet. 2005 Jul;6(7):533-43. PMID: 15995697