Synthetic Biology Fundamentals
Synthetic biology involves designing, engineering and building biological systems using standardized biological parts. Standardized biological parts include DNA fragments that code for proteins and DNA elements that regulate transcription. There are common techniques for identifying, isolating, storing and manipulating these biological parts. The generation of customized cells with fully synthetic genomes is another area of synthetic biology.
DNA synthesis is the linking together of nucleotide bases such as the four naturally occurring ones, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine, to form a DNA molecule. During DNA synthesis non-natural nucleotide bases may also be incorporated into DNA.
DNA sequencing is the determination which nucleotide bases are present and in which precise order they occur within a segment of DNA.
Gene editing techniques
Gene editing techniques are used to alter specific DNA sequences in the genome or RNA molecules, which are transcripts or copies of the DNA sequence that will be translated into the amino acid sequence of the protein.
Bioinformatics and modeling
Bioinformatics is the use of computational techniques to organize and search biological data as well as model biological systems and solve biological problems.
Synthetic Circuit Design
Synthetic circuit design is based on knowledge about genetic circuits used by cells, whereby genes and the proteins they encode interact with each other, respond to internal and environmental cues and switch on and off cellular processes like gene expression and cell division. Synthetic circuit design uses a bottoms-up approach to put together well-characterized genes and proteins to produce synthetic gene circuits that perform desired functions.
Transfection of Nucleic Acids
Transfection is a procedure used to introduce nucleic acids which may be DNA, RNA or oligonucleotides into eukaryotic cells.
The optogenetics field has adapted the use of light-responsive proteins to control a variety of cellular functions which can be further engineered or built into biological systems through synthetic biology. Optogenetics uses light as a trigger to cause a photosensitive protein to respond by switching on or off a molecular event that can be measured or detected. Photosensitive proteins used in this way are called optogenetic actuators.
Directed evolution methods mimic natural selection, but the process is sped up in the laboratory. The system is a method of engineering proteins with desired features because it is set up so certain protein structures or functions have a selective advantage.
Theoretical biology and artificial life
Synthetic biology approaches are used to modify microbes for better production of biofuels.
Synthetic biology is applied to cellular agriculture to genetically engineer cell cultures to provide new or enhanced capabilities to produce agricultural products that we otherwise obtain from animal and plant farming. For companies, see cellular agriculture subsection under companies heading.
In medicine synthetic molecular and cellular biosensors hold potential in diagnostics and theranostics, whereby gene circuits could act like an intracellular molecular prosthesis, monitoring disease-associated biomarkers and adjusting therapeutic response accordingly.Biosensors can also be used for targeted delivery of therapeutics.
DNA nanorobots – Described in Nature Biotechnology in 2018, DNA nanorobots were constructed using DNA. A DNA aptamer binds nucleolin, a protein expressed in tumor-associated endothelial cells, and binding causes a molecular trigger to open the DNA nanorobot and release the payload at the tumor site.
- RNA-based biosensing
- Phage-based diagnostics
- Paper-based synthetic gene networks
- Bacterial biosensors
- Mammalian cell biosensors
Synthetic Tissue Development
Synthetic biology is applied to tissue engineering and morphogenetic engineering to make genetic manipulations that control the self-organization programs used by multicellular organisms during development and regeneration for the purpose of generating self- assembling structures. A method for construction of self-assembling structures would use the sequence, 1) form a pattern, 2) change gene expression, 3) trigger morphogenesis. Researchers from University of Edinburgh described their construction of a net-like structure by two cell types which formed a pattern, resulting in differential gene expression between the two cell types. The holes in the “net” were formed when a morphogenic effector was used to drive cell death in one cell type.
Since synthetic biology aims to redesign or build biological entities using biological parts, mapping how those parts fit together in natural living systems can serve as a guide for how to put parts together to attain a desired function. Mapping and reading genomes has lead to writing synthetic genomes that function in bacteria. Systems biology is involved in creating maps of biological interactions involving cells, genes, proteins and metabolic pathways in healthy and diseased living systems which can serve as a reference point for synthetic biology. At a meta level, mapping how different areas of synthetic biology and biological engineering are developing and could evolve in the future can help to identify promising areas for research
'Omics' Projects and Biological Atlases
- Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL)
Facilitating access to DNA sequences
Blockchain and biology
The ability of blockchain to facilitate transparency, control and sharing of information, while keeping data secure, is being applied to biotechnology. Blockchain technology in data storage and online platforms can improve sharing and access to information and also provide quicker ways for tracking and managing various steps in drug development.
For immunotherapies such as CAR-T cell therapy, blockchain can provide ways to store, maintain, track and secure information about cells derived from a donor patient like editing performed, storage conditions and transport from donor to recipient. Information must be accessible to patients, physicians, laboratory scientists, logistics companies, supply chains and infusion centers. For blockchain companies in this area see subsection under "Companies" heading below.
Organizations and projects
Biological control system
- Oxitec (Insect-based)
Biopharma and health
Aging and senescence
Senescence is a state of permanent growth arrest that cells can enter when they are damaged or stressed where they lose the ability to divide but do not undergo cell death. Cellular senescence is both an anticancer mechanism and contributor to loss of tissue and organ function over time in aging and age-related disease.
- Universal BioMining
Blockchain applied to tracking and security of biological data
Carbon capture and conversion
- METabolic EXplorer (petrochemical process alternatives)
Food and agriculture
Phages are engineered for use as phage therapies as antimicrobial agents and also for delivery of drugs and vaccines. Phages can also be engineered to assemble new materials.
- DCVC Bio
One of NHGRI's goals is to promote new technologies that could eventually reduce the cost of sequencing a human genome of even higher quality than is possible today and for less than $1,000.
ACS Synthetic Biology (ACS Publications)
BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the Lab
Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves
George M. Church
Synthetic Biology - A Primer
Paul S. Freemont (Editor), Richard I. Kitney (Editor)
These Fifty Synthetic Biology Companies Raised $1.7B in 2017
Documentaries, videos and podcasts
The GeneMods Podcast
July 2017 - Present