What is Synthetic Biology?

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary field that combines the fundamental parts of biology with engineering principles. The Royal Society in the UK has defined synthetic biology as “an emerging area of research that can broadly be described as the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems.”

All living organisms contain a carrier of heredity information – DNA – the genetic code of an organism. DNA is a linear strand of molecules that contains the information that guides how living organisms act, appear, and respond to stimuli. Biological networks are complicated and contain several layers of regulatory circuits and feedback loops.
For millennia, people have been breeding new plants and animals to selectively choose  desirable traits. Today, scientists have learned how to synthesise and re-organize portions of DNA in a controlled way. This may include adding artificial sections of DNA, adding features from other organisms, or removing features from the host organism. The most common examples are modified microorganisms that are able to produce biofuels or pharmaceutical drugs.

What is the difference between synthetic biology and systems biology?

  • Systems biology is a holistic approach that focuses on the interactions between the components of biological systems, and how these interactions give rise to the function and behavior of that system. The systems biology approach uses modeling, simulation, and data integration tools to decipher the complexity of biological systems.
  • Synthetic biology is the engineering of biological systems. Synthetic biology aims to build artificially augmented biological systems with improved properties for engineering applications. The modifications could be the addition of a genetic circuit, inclusion or deletion of metabolic pathways, chromosomes, or even a complete re-write of an entire cell. The aim is to create optimal biological systems from novel and/or natural parts from other biological systems. The approach involves characterizing and simplifying them, and finally using them as a component of an engineered biological system.

Want to learn more?
Visit websites like:
Synthetic Biology community

Or watch YouTube and TEDx Talks on synthetic biology:

  • TED Talk by Juan Enriquez – We can reprogram life. How to do it wisely [link]
  • iBiology talk by Christopher Voigt – Synthetic Biology: Programming Living Bacteria [link]
  • iBiology talk by Jan Roelof van der Meer – Synthetic Biology: Principles and Applications [link]
  • iBiology talk by Vivek Mutalik – Synthetic Biology: Technical Challenges in Synthetic Biology  [link]
  • TEDx talk by J. Craig Venter – Future Biology [link]
  • TEDx talk by Drew Endy – Synthetic biology – what should we be vibrating about [link]