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SYNTHETIC BIOLOGYEmerging Trends in Biology

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Definition: Synthetic Biology

  • (also known as Synbio, Synthetic Genomics, Constructive Biology or Systems Biology) – the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world and also the redesign of existing biological systems to perform specific tasks. Advances in Nano scale technologies – manipulation of matter at the level of atoms and molecules – are contributing to advances in synthetic biology.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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What is Synthetic Biology

  • The title ‘synthetic biology’ appeared in the literature in 1980, when it was used by Barbara Hobom to describe bacteria that had been genetically engineered using recombinant DNA technology. These bacteria are living systems (therefore biological) that have been altered by human intervention (that is, synthetically). In this respect, synthetic biology was largely synonymous with ‘bioengineering’.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Bio-Informatics enters Synthetic Biology

  • Looking at life as an information system

    • DNA as a database

    • RNA as a decision network

    • Proteins and genes as runtime DLLs

  • Modeling gene regulatory networks

    • Simulating life as a computer program

    • Using silicon to validate biological models

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Synthetic Biology Means ?

  • It is an emerging field of biology that aims at designing and building novel biological systems.

  • The final goal is to be able to design biological systems in the same way engineers design electronic or mechanical systems.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology – A new Biological Research

  • Synthetic biology is a new area of biological research that combines science and engineering. Synthetic biology encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies and disciplines, and many different definitions exist. 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.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Subfields of contemporary SB Biological Research

1. DNA Synthesis

2. DNA based bio-circuits

3. Minimal genome

4. Protocells

5. Chemical SB/Xenobiology

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Components of Synthetic Biology Biological Research

  • Genetic Manipulation?

  • Genetic selection carried out for millennia (domestication of animals)

  • Mendelian selection ‘rationalized’ process.

  • Recombinant DNA

Dr.T.V.Rao MD


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Synthetic Biological ResearchBiology becomes part of living system

  • In 2000, the term ‘synthetic biology’ was again introduced by Eric Kool and other speakers at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. Here, the term was used to describe the synthesis of unnatural organic molecules that function in living systems

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology Redefines Life Biological Research

  • Broadly the term has been used with reference to efforts to ‘redesign life’

  • This use of the term is an extension of the concept of ‘biomimetic chemistry’, in which organic synthesis is used to create artificial molecules that recapitulate the behavior of parts of biology, typically enzymes

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Scope of Biological ResearchSynthetic Biology

  • Synthetic biology has a broader scope, however, in that it attempts to recreate in unnatural chemical systems the emergent properties of living systems, including inheritance, genetics and evolution Synthetic biologists seek to assemble components that are not natural (therefore synthetic) to generate chemical systems that support Darwinian evolution

  • The motivation is similar in biomimetic chemistry, where synthetic enzyme models are important for understanding natural enzymes.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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What can synthetic biology achieve? Biological Research

  • Potential applications of synthetic biology range very widely across scientific and engineering disciplines, from medicine to energy generation. For example, designed microorganisms might be capable of producing pharmaceutical compounds that are extremely challenging for existing methods of chemical or biological synthesis.While several pharmaceuticals are already produced biotechnologically using genetically engineered organisms, the capacity to design complex synthesis pathways into such organisms could greatly expand the repertoire of products that can be made this way.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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What are the Biological Researchapplications of Synthetic Biology ?

  • Engineered biological ‘devices’ based on modular assemblies of genes and proteins might also be able to act within the body to detect and respond to changes in the state of health – a kind of autonomous, molecular-scale ‘physician’ that can combat disease at a very early stage in its development. Such devices could also be used for tissue repair and cell regeneration. Such means, synthetic biology might provide the tools for medical intervention at the molecular level, obviating the rather crude surgical or pharmaceutical tools currently at our disposal

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology as Emerging Science Biological Research

  • Synthetic Biology is an emerging technology that hopes to further develop biology as a substrate for engineering by adapting concepts developed in other fields of engineering. Foundational tools to meet this challenge include: ready access to off-the-shelf standardized biological parts and devices; a reliable and defined cellular chassis in which engineers can assemble and power DNA programs; and computational tools as well as measurement standards that enable the ready integration of simpler devices into many-component functional systems

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Goals in Biological ResearchSynthetic Engineering

  • Engineering Goal: To build components that can be reliably and predictably assembled into ever more complicated systems

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology Adopts Many Techniques Biological Research

  • Nanotechnology is emulating biology

    • Molecular assemblers, molecular sensors

    • ‘Bots’ that deliver medicine to specific cells

  • Biotechnology is helping out

    • Genetic ‘reengineering’ of e-coli, phages

  • Nano-Bio or Bio-Nano?

    • Two very interesting approaches…

    • The answer might be ‘synthetic biology’

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Nature as a Nano Toolbox Biological Research

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Proteins Biological Research

  • Synthesis

    • New polymers

  • Biochemistry

  • Structural studies

    • Structure / function

  • Functional studies

    • New properties

  • New applications

    • Cell structure adapts well to environments

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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DNA Biological Research2.0

  • DNA 2.0 a leading provider for synthetic biology. With our gene synthesis process you can get synthetic DNA that conforms exactly to your needs, quickly and cost effectively. Applications of custom gene synthesis include codon optimization for increased protein expression, synthetic biology, gene variants, RNAi trans-complementation and much more.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Bio-Nano Biological ResearchConvergence

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Bio-Nano Biological ResearchMachinery

  • Using protein / viral complexes and DNA to self-assemble devices, and novel function, into biomechanical systems

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

Earth’s early nanostructures ~ 2 billion years ago

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Figure1: Biological Research 3D diagram of a lipid bilayer membrane - water molecules not represented for clarity

  • Figure 2: Different lipid model

  • top : multi-particles lipid molecule

  • bottom: single-particle lipid molecule

Molecular Self Assembly

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Goal of Biological ResearchDigital Cells

  • Simulate a Gene Regulatory Network

    • Goal of e-cell, CellML, and SBML projects

  • Test microarray data for biological model

    • Run expression data through GRN functions

  • Create biological cells with new functions

    • Splice in promoters to control expression

    • Create oscillating networks using operons

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Biology from Laptops Biological Research

  • Biological engineers of the future will start with their laptops, not in the laboratory.”

    — Drew Endy, MIT

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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How computer Helps in Designing Life Biological Research

  • While computers store and process information in binary strings – coded as the numbers 0 and 1 – DNA operates in (mathematical) base four.

  • Its information is coded by the sequence of the four nucleotide bases, A, C, T and G. The bases are spaced every 0.35 nm along the DNA molecule, giving DNA a data density of over one-half million gigabits per square centimeter, many thousands of times more dense than a typical hard drive.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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How Technology helps to create Life Biological Research

  • It would take more than a trillion music CDs to hold the amount of information that DNA can hold in a cubic centimeter. Moreover, different strands of DNA can all be working on computational problems at the same time – and are a lot cheaper than buying multiple PowerBooks

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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DNA synthesis speeds Science ? Biological Research

  • The increasing speed and decreasing cost of DNA synthesis will assist the progress of experimental research in the biological sciences (Endy 2005). For these reasons, the discussion of applications and their opportunities is rather speculative.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Environmental Biological ResearchApplications

  • Bioremediation. Another area with potential environmental benefits is bioremediation. Microorganisms or even plants could be engineered to degrade pesticides and remove pollutants (Tucker and Zilinskas 2006).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Environmental Biological ResearchApplications

  • Biosensors. The area of biosensors also has potential environmental benefits. Although biosensors have a broad range of uses (including the production of photographic bacteria, see Levskaya et al. 2005), they can also be developed to detect toxic chemicals, such as arsenic (Chu 2007).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Medical Applications Biological Research

  • In vivo applications. There are a range of potential applications of synthetic biology which could monitor and respond to conditions in the human body. For example, regulatory circuits could be designed which trigger insulin production in diabetes (ITI Life Sciences 2007). Bacteria or viruses could be programmed to identify malignant cancer cells and deliver therapeutic agents (Serrano 2007). Viruses have also been engineered to interact with HIV-infected cells, which could prevent the development of AIDS (De Vriend 2006).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology Creates New Drug Development Biological Research

  • New drug development pathways. One of the avenues of synthetic biology that has wide application is the development of alternative production routes for useful compounds, and one of the most discussed of these is the construction of an artificial metabolic pathway in E. coli and yeast to produce a precursor (arteminisin) for an antimalarial drug (Martin et al. 2003, Ro et al. 2006).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Solutions for HIV and Cancer Biological Research

  • Can be used for development of other therapeutically useful compounds for cancer and HIV treatment (Voigt 2005). Polyketides are another important class of drugs which could potentially be produced using synthetic biology (Heinemann and Panke 2006).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Helps development of Synthetic Biological ResearchVaccines

  • Synthetic vaccines. The fact that synthetic biology can ‘start from scratch’ means that new synthetic vaccines could be produced in response to viruses that themselves evolve rapidly, such as those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and hepatitis C (Garfinkel et al. 2007).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Industrial Biological ResearchApplications

  • Biofuels. One of the most widely discussed areas of future application of synthetic biology research is biofuels. There are many ways of engineering microorganisms to produce carbon-neutral (or more environmentally friendly) sources of energy. For example, bacteria could be engineered to synthesize hydrogen or ethanol by degrading cellulose, although further work is needed to overcome technical barriers.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Bio based Biological Researchmanufacturing and chemical synthesis

  • The development of alternative production routes (as in the arteminisin case above) does not have to be limited to health-related applications, but could also be used for the production of other useful compounds

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Risks related to synthetic biology Biological Research

  • These potential applications of synthetic biology have to be viewed in the light of the possible risks. There are two factors which make the risk governance of synthetic biology potentially problematic. The first is that synthetic biology (like genetic engineering) involves the production of living organisms, which by definition are self-propagating. The second is that with the growth of the Internet and the routinisation of many biotechnological procedures, the tools for doing synthetic biology are readily accessible (Garfinkel et al. 2007).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Environmental risks: biosafety Biological Research

  • The major biosafety risk of synthetic biology is the accidental release of synthetic organisms, which could have unintended detrimental effects on the environment or on human health (De Vriend 2006). This could be a particular in the case of bioremediation, where synthetic organisms would be purposely released into the environment, for example to remove toxins from the soil. Not only are microorganisms living and self-propagating, but they also evolve rapidly, and they can exchange genetic material with each other across species boundaries

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Creations of Unpredictable Microbes Biological Research

  • Additionally, the flexibility of synthetic biology means that microorganisms could be created which are radically different from existing ones, and these microorganisms might have unpredictable and emergent properties (Tucker and Zilinskas 2006), making the risks of accidental release very difficult to assess in advance (De Vriend 2006).

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Ethical Issues – A certain Concern Biological Research

  • It is the perceived unnaturalness of synthetic biology which is most likely to give rise to ethical alarm. Statements to the effect that the next 50 years of DNA evolution will take place “not in Nature but in the laboratory and clinic” (Benner 2004:785), accompanied by inventions such as plants that produce spider silk, clearly challenge everyday understandings of nature and our place in it.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic Biology can create New Pathogens Biological Research

The major advantage of our approach is putting together well characterized components.

Creating new pathogens would require a full scale research effort

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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SYNBIOSAFE: Biological ResearchSafety and Ethical aspects of Synthetic Biology

  • Ethics

    • Related to its applications (e.g. human enhancement)

    • Related to its distribution (e.g. biofuel production)

    • Related to the procedure as such (e.g. status of living machines)

  • Biosafety

    • How to assess risks from new SB products, functions and systems?

    • How can we improve safety through SB biosafety engineering?

    • What happens if non-professionals (amateurs, hackers) start using SB?

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

Schmidt M, Ganguli-Mitra A, Torgersen H, Kelle A, Deplazes A & Biller-Andorno N. 2009. A Priority Paper for the Societal and Ethical Aspects of Synthetic Biology. Systems and Synthic Biology Vol.3(1-4):1-2

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Rebooting Life Biological Research

  • A new report looks at the challenges of regulating first generation products of synthetic biology. At the J. Craig Venter Institute, scientists are on the verge of creating a living organism from “dead” chemicals, by rebooting a microbe with a new—and completely artificially constructed—genome. At the University of California Berkeley, researchers are modifying microbes to

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Synthetic biology and Biological ResearchNanotechnology

  • The popular computer game “SimLife” allows users to create and manipulate virtual people.  But what are the chances of us one day being able to do the same with real organisms: building new life-forms out of basic chemicals, so “SimLife” becomes “SynLife”?

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Craig venter creates revolution in Synthetic Biology Biological Research

  • Craig Venter’s team (and the associated paper in Science) that they have successfully synthesized the complete genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium is an important step towards achieving what is becoming known as “synthetic biology”.  By constructing complete DNA sequences from scratch, the door is being opened to transforming common laboratory chemicals into new living organisms; that are engineered with specific purposes in mind.  And perhaps not surprisingly, this manipulation of DNA at the nan scale is increasingly being seen as part of the “nanotechnology revolution”.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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First Self-Replicating Synthetic Bacterial Cell Biological Research

  • The complete synthetic M. mycoides genome was isolated from the yeast cell and transplanted into Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cells that have had the genes for its restriction enzyme removed. The synthetic genome DNA was transcribed into messenger RNA, which in turn was translated into new proteins. The M. capricolum genome was either destroyed by M. mycoides restriction enzymes or was lost during cell replication. After two days viable M. mycoides cells, which contained only synthetic DNA, were clearly visible on petri dishes containing bacterial growth medium.

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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Breakthrough Biological Researchin creating Synthetic Cell

  • Creating a 'synthetic cell', as described in a report published online in Science, meant putting together a series of previously developed steps. First, the team established a method for transplanting natural DNA from M. mycoides into M. capricolum. Then, working with Mycoplasma genitalium, a species whose genome is about half the length of that of M. mycoides, the group stitched together a synthetic donor genome and cloned it in a yeast cell

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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New Hope in Science Biological Research

  • It is hoped that this discovery will lead to the development of many important applications and products including biofuels, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, clean water and food products. Cleaning up oil spills maybe?

Dr.T.V.Rao MD

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  • Created by Dr.T.V.Rao MD for ‘e’ learning resources for Biologists in the Developing world

  • Email

  • [email protected]

Dr.T.V.Rao MD