Biology's drive toward engineering

Jun 05, 2013
Biology’s drive toward engineering
The basic tools of “synthetic biology” are falling into place to enable scientists to assemble biological parts with the same precision and predictability of engineers constructing bridges or engines. Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Biology is on the verge of getting its versions of the lever, wheel and axle, pulley and other basic machines that enable engineers to build almost any mechanical device, a new analysis has concluded. The viewpoint article on availability of this new toolkit—for engineering biological factories that can produce new biofuels, crops and chemicals, among others—appears in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

Kevin Munnelly, CEO of synthetic biology start-up Gen9, explains that people have been using basic genetic engineering for centuries to breed stronger oxen, faster horses and improved . In recent years, however, there have been great leaps forward in the field of "synthetic biology." Powered in part by advances in genome sequencing, chip-based processing and chemical innovations, that field is developing a solid engineering foundation of biological parts that can be assembled with the same precision and predictability of engineers constructing bridges or engines, and applied at the scale required for industrial manufacturing. Using synthetic biology, innovators across industries are building billion-dollar-plus markets for plants that churn out biofuels, create new textiles or yield crops that will thrive in any environment. They are also tackling data storage. For example, the entire contents of the could fit within a shot-glass of DNA.

In this viewpoint article, Munnelly describes the significant accomplishments that have shaped the synthetic biology landscape, as well as possible future innovations. Synthetic biology is already building its basic toolkit, with a switch and an oscillator, for instance, and scientists have stored 70 billion copies of a book in genetic material the size of a garden pea. On the horizon are drop-in genes, protein signaling pathways and other interchangeable parts for the emerging toolkit.

The article is titled "Engineering for the 21st Century: Synthetic Biology."

Explore further: Better mouse model enables colon cancer research

More information: Engineering for the 21st Century: Synthetic Biology, ACS Synth. Biol., 2013, 2 (5), pp 213–215. DOI: 10.1021/sb400039g

Abstract
For years, scientists have hoped that biology would find its engineering counterpart – a series of principles that could be used as reliably as chemical engineering is for chemistry. Thanks to major advances in synthetic biology, those hopes may soon be realized.

Related Stories

Fast new, one-step genetic engineering technology

May 22, 2013

A new, streamlined approach to genetic engineering drastically reduces the time and effort needed to insert new genes into bacteria, the workhorses of biotechnology, scientists are reporting. Published in ...

Predictability: The brass ring for synthetic biology

Mar 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —Predictability is often used synonymously with "boring," as in that story or that outcome was soooo predictable. For practitioners of synthetic biology seeking to engineer valuable new microbes, ...

Nature Commentary investigates synthetic-biology disaster

Feb 29, 2012

Experts say at least $20 million to $30 million in government research is needed over the next decade to adequately identify and address the possible ecological risks of synthetic biology, an emerging area of research focused ...

Can synthetic biology save wildlife?

Apr 02, 2013

What effects will the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology have on the conservation of nature? The ecological and ethical challenges stemming from this question will require a new dialogue between members of the synthetic ...

Nanoscopic cages for big applications

Apr 16, 2013

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new type of nanoparticle with potential applications in chemistry, biology and medicine. The findings, published in Science and led by a multidisciplinary team o ...

Recommended for you

Better mouse model enables colon cancer research

9 hours ago

Every day, it seems, someone in some lab is "curing cancer." Well, it's easy to kill cancer cells in a lab, but in a human, it's a lot more complicated, which is why nearly all cancer drugs fail clinical ...

How to get high-quality RNA from chemically complex plants

May 26, 2015

Ask any molecular plant biologist about RNA extractions and you might just open up the floodgates to the woes of troubleshooting. RNA extraction is a notoriously tricky and sensitive lab procedure. New protocols out of the ...

Plant fertility—how hormones get around

May 26, 2015

Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology have identified a transporter protein at the heart of a number of plant processes associated with fertility and possibly aging.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.