SYM-03: Engineering Biology / Synthetic Biology


Richard Kitney

Imperial College London, UK

Since the turn of the century, a new field called synthetic biology is been developing - based on the confluence of engineering and biology. Synthetic biology is based on the engineering principles of modularisation, characterisation and standardisation - and a systematic design approach, using what is known as the synthetic biology design cycle. The rapid development of the field is based upon the ability to rapidly and accurately read DNA and, increasingly today, to accurately write chemically based DNA – the 
process of DNA synthesis.

Broadly speaking, the field of synthetic biology divides into the two fundamental areas of research and development (namely, platform or foundational technology), and applications. The development of platform technology relates to concepts in terms of bio design and the engineering principles of modularisation, characterisation and standardisation. Key elements of this approach will be described, particularly in the context of characterisation and the development of information systems and technical standards for synthetic biology. The development of a web-based information system (SynBIS) and a new technical standard for synthetic biology called DICOMSB, based on the international DICOM standard will be described. These two areas are important because of the need for reliable components (BioParts) in the development of biologically-based devices. Hence, the accurate characterisation of components is the key to better design and reproducibility. In this context, DNA foundries are an important development because they allow much greater accuracy in terms of component description, leading to much better reproducibility and reliability. The improvements achieved with DNA foundries result from the use of standard operating procedures and protocols, together with extensive automation.

The presentation will also cover areas of application of synthetic biology, with examples biomedicine. These will include biosensors, bio-logic circuits and other applications, including vaccines. The potential for development of theranostic procedures will also be discussed.

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