New life forms engineering – a scientist’s dream and a sci-fi fantasy since the genome structure discovery. Imagine, you would not only be reading the extensively long genome code, you would be able to WRITE IT. Such engineering would enable us to create organism structures that have never existed before, organism structures that have never undergone the evolution process, and organism structures that could help us sustain our own survival in a completely sustainable manner. The possibilities of application of this young scientific discipline are countless and promise an incredible future. The talk is about the mighty synthetic biology that has already started its fantastic journey.
Dr. Haseloff from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge stated, “It’s a new way of building organisms, as it entails the adoption of engineering principles of standardization, abstraction and decoupling in biological construction.” (The University of Sydney, 2011). In other words, synthetic biology in application means breaking down known organisms into the building blocks and re-constructing possible new life forms by adding another biological structures to reach desired results.
Another specialist in the microbiology field, Dr. Jan Roelof van der Meer, who is a professor of microbiology in Univeristy of Lausanne, explains the three concepts of synthetic biology as following:
- Dissecting the sequence of the genome – breaking DNA into biological parts: DNA parts or protein parts. Simply put: DNA construction bricks (promoter, terminator, operator, gene, and RBS) and protein parts (structural protein, regulator, sensory protein, and transcription factor).
- Rules and models – rules specify how the genome sequence work when all parts are together or describes what the cell does in order to make the sequence work. The premises such as – if the particular gene is silent, the organism is not going to glow in the dark. The models can also predict how certain genes can work for the cell.
- Standards – following the standards enable different laboratories and industries to work on the same parts.
According to Dr. van der Meer’s words, synthetic biology can be compared to a widely popular building blocks of Lego. In order to understand the biological processes – the little building blocks are far more interesting once they are put together into a structure. Biological processes are understood through their reconstruction where constructing new biological processes with the completely new functionalities are the most exciting part.
The speedy emergence of the new technologies based on synthetic biology research and discoveries opens brand new horizons and the global markets react to it. According to the numbers from Allied Market Research from May 2014, the global market value for synthetic biology has been steadily increasing and is expected to reach 38.7 billion USD by the year 2020 (Allied Market Research, 2014).
The research covers various pathways where the most fascinating ones focus on minimal cells and host production platforms; and protocells and artificial life. According to Dr. van der Meer, these research fields have incredibly strong potential in areas such as:
Human and animal health – vaccines, pharmaceuticals, gene or cell therapy, tissue engineering, probiotics, diagnostics,
Agriculture – disease resistant plants, drought resistant plants animal feedstock, diagnostics,
Industry: bioenergy, biofuels, bulk chemicals, specialty chemicals, new materials building,
Environment: biosensors, bioreporters, bioremediation, waste treatment (Meer, 2016).
From growing organs for transplants to cultivating plants that are drought resistant. From completely clean biofuels to a definitive end of pesticides and insecticides use (Biotechnology Innovation Organization, 2013). The synthetic biology applications represent the ultimate engineering there has ever been. It will not only bring mind blowing solutions, it will completely re-define the world we know today.
Allied Market Research (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/synthetic-biology-market
Biotechnology Innovation Organization (2013). Retrieved from: https://www.bio.org/articles/current-uses-synthetic-biology
Image 1 credits: The University of Sydney (2011). Retrieved from: http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=7476
Meer, J. (2016). Synthetic Biology Principles and Applications Retrieved from: https://www.ibiology.org/ibioeducation/synthetic-biology-principles-and-applications.html
The University of Sydney. Synthetic biology: the next generation of genetic modification (2011). Retrieved from: http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=7476
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