Team:SCUT/HP/Magazine/iGEM Knowledge


A Glimpse at Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a brand new biological research field which illustrate an increasing trend since 2000. On the basis of engineering science, SB achieve certain biology function via design and synthetise new biological parts, devices and systems or redesign and transform the existing biosystem. To illustrate, people install a computer through different parts, synthetic biology scientists hope to standardize the biological parts, and then try to assemble them together, and then accomplish a certain function system or even a new living thing.

1:The History of Synthetic Biology

In 1974, the concept of ‘Synthetic Biology’ was first proposed by Poland geneticist Waclaw Szybalski. He predicted that the development of molecule biology will turn into the stage of synthetic biology. Then people can design new regulate part, take advantage of it to transform the natural genome, even further construct a brand new genome.

In 1978, when Nobel price in medicine and physiology was awarded to three scientists who found the restriction endonuclease, Waclaw Szybalski commented on the ‘Gene ’magazine that restriction enzyme not only benefit for constructing and recombining DNA or analyzing individual gene, but also bring us into a new era of synthetic biology.——From then on, people could not only describe or analyze gene but also construct and assess them. In 1980, on the German magazine ‘Medizinische Klinik’published the first paper which titled synthetic biology-‘Gene surgery : on the threshold of synthetic biology’

Pic 2 The Forth microbial cell——Synthetic Bacteria

In 2000, Nature published two papers in Vol.403 which introduced the research on toggle switch and ring oscillator circuit, and announced the achievement of artificial gene circuit. So far, the control modules used Switch, Cascades, plus generator, time delayed circuits, oscillator etc which can effectively control the expression of gene, the function of protein, cell metabolism and the interaction of cell.

In 2003, MIT established Registry of Standard Biological Parts for collecting standard biological parts. Scientists from all over the world could submit their modules which would simplified the design of a complicate system. Up to now, 3200 biobricks were collected and the number of it shows an increasing trend.

In 2004, the first (International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition was hold in MIT, 5 teams participated in it. This year, it’s 10th anniversary of iGEM, and there are more than 200 teams from all over the world took part in it. Many of projects achieve great results and published. People from all over the world pay more attention to the technology of synthetic biology and accelerate the development of it.

2.The Application of Synthetic Biology

1.The bacteria which can kill cancer Voigt etc from UC designed a bacteria could kill cancer. They design many gene circuits so the bacteria could detect the environment. When the bacteria was in a low oxygen and the density of it above the threshold (both of them are the characters of tumor cell), it would express invasin which would kill the tumor cell. This biosystem combine many module parts including two detectors, one coincidencegate controller and a reactor which illustrate the flexibility of synthetic biology. Because these modules could be replaced by similar parts and that makes the design of specific therapy bacteria target certain tumor cell. In the future, it would be possible for people to design a bacteria could cure cancer. They can be a tiny surgeon and enter into human body and destroy cancer. When they accomplish their mission, they would disappear immediately which will not only release their pain, but also solve incurable disease.

2.Cheaper medicine for malaria Malaria is an antiquated disease, which would infected approximately 5 hundred million people and cause more than one million death. For centuries, the normal treat is the utilization of quinine or its derivative chloroquine but because long-term treatment and drug-fast, the efficiency decrease. In 1972, China scientists extract arteannuin which can cure malaria from Artemisia annua, but the cost spend on extraction is ten times quinine and most of the patients are in the poorest place in the world which can not afford the expensive fees.

Keasling improve the E.coli and yeast production of arteannuin via design of the pathway of bacteria, yeast and plants. The method make each cell’s capacity of produce arteannuin increase one million times than before and the cost of medicine decrease from 10 to 1 dollar. Owing to his outstanding achievement, Keasling was selected by discovery magazine as the most effective scientist in 2006 and received 40 million dollar fund from Bill and Melinda Gates which was used to produce arteannuin in industry.

Arteannuin will be the first commodity utilizing synthetic biology, which illustrate the potentiality of synthetic biology i.e. people could synthetise any significant chemicals even it does’t exit in the natural world via the design of cell metabolism.

3.The production of new biofuels The researchers in L9 renewable petrol company utilized synthetic biology to produce bioenergy and they receive the patent in 2008. They combine the gene from bacteria, plants and animals and design the pathway of producing fatty acid, aliphatic alcohol and aliphatic ester. Through the calculation and design the metabolism modules, they could make E.coli produce hydrocarbon compounds.

The hydrocarbon compound float on the top of the fermentor, and the bottom is the mixture of medium and water, so it would be very simple to separate and extract the product without using the high energy consumption technology rectification. Compare with the ethanol rectification technique, the new technology will lower the consumption by 65%. And the petrol produced by this way is totally renewable and clean energy and also compatible with the vehicle motor and gasoline supplies system. In sum, the abstractive modularize standardize concept of synthetic biology would impetus to the development of genetic engineering. That is I would give you want you want, all you need is your imagination.

3.The Argument and Future

With the help of synthetic biology, human are able to create a brand new life form which break the limitation of ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’. And that’s why synthetic biology cause so much controversy and consideration all around the world.

Some opponents afraid that once the artificial biosystem escape to the natural world it might lead to an ecology disaster. What’s more, some terrorist may utilize it to create super dangerous bacteria or even biology weapon target certain people. Though arteannuin is benefit for people’s health, some people argue that it would cause the farmers from Asia and Africa who earn their living by growing Artemisia annua lose their jobs. Keasling explained that ‘I know many people worry about this, and I know the reason why. Any powerful new thing means troubles. But I don’t think that rigidly adhere to past could give the answers we want in the future. And it obviously not the African who were so close to malaria say’ Stop the technology!

Synthetic biology is just at the beginning of its development, the achievement and rapid development show its incomparably feasibility and application. But due to the strong power of synthetic biology, the development of the technology must restrict by the government and academia. Especially when the spread of the technology and the drop of the price, how to prevent synthetic biology from Malicious use would be an inevitable issue for all over the world.