Tag Archives: 20 amino acids

Synthetic Biology and its Promise

Synthetic Biology is going to be huge all over the world very soon. No wonder, the promise is incredible. According to Jeurgen Pleiss, possible applications of synthetic biology include:

1. Genetic circuits. The BioBrick project initiated at MIT seeks to assemble a set of standardized DNA parts that encode basic biological functions. The “Registry of Standard Biological Parts” includes genes for transcription factors and enzymes, promoter and enhancer elements, ribosome binding sites, and terminators. This registry describes the sequence of the individual bricks, a quantitative description of their input–output properties, and a concept of how to connect them, the “biowiring”. Each element can be considered as a logical circuit, an inverter, or a NAND or a NOR gate. By combining logical gates and by wiring them using orthogonal, highly specific gene products, artificial genetic circuits have been constructed with predetermined behavior. Projects at the international Genetically Engineering Machine (iGEM) competition are examples of genetic circuits.

2. Protein design. The ultimate goal is the complete de novo design of proteins. The methods are based on design tools that evaluate the compatibility of a protein sequence with a given structure. The vision of protein design is a modular approach to the design of new biomaterials with desired properties. Although all protein design efforts use the 20 amino acids as basic parts, de novo design is not limited to naturally occurring amino acids. By using expression platforms with expanded genetic code, single unnatural amino acids can be incorporated by in vivo or in vitro protein biosynthesis. Thus, the synthetic potential is considerably enhanced. However, the primary goal of protein design is not to compete with natural structural diversity. In line with the premises of synthetic biology, it would be desirable to identify a minimal set of robust and versatile scaffolds. In a modular design strategy, these basic parts would then be combined into more complex devices which are then modified to function as enzyme, power generator, signaling device, mechanical motor, or structural protein. The major application would be cheap and effective drugs.

3. Platform technologies. Like synthetic bacteriophages with optimized genome organization. The synthetic gene circuits and the production of designed proteins are implemented into living cells, thus allowing applications in biotransformation and biosensing. The ideal cellular platform should be of minimal complexity. Minimization of genomes is expected to simplify the cellular platform.

4. Engineering of pathways.  Signaling pathways are characterized by the modular architecture of the proteins involved in signal transduction. Kinetics and thermodynamics of intermodular recognition are crucial to specificity and information flow. Production of natural products by synthetic gene clusters is considered as a promising application for synthetic biology.


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