Insights from BCC Research

What is Synthetic Biology?

Posted by John Bergin on Jul 13, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Synthetic_BiologyThe following is an excerpt from BCC Research Report “Synthetic Biology: Global Markets” by John Bergin.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field that uses standardized DNA building blocks (e.g., synthetic genes, etc.) to create value-added products with advanced functionality (e.g., bacterial cell bioreactors, etc.) to produce desired end products (e.g., drugs, chemicals, etc.).

There are three key producer groups in the synthetic biology industry: (1) those developing enabling technologies such as DNA synthesis and sequencing; (2) those making DNA building blocks and integrated systems such as synthetic genes or minimal organisms; and (3) those producing desired products using synthetic biology platforms.

A key objective of synthetic biology is the use of standardized DNA-based building blocks to design cells for a specific purpose, such as producer cells to be used in cellular factories. To date, these producer cells are microorganisms (e.g., bacteria or yeasts).

These synthetic biology-derived cellular factories have advantages over conventional bioprocesses, such as higher yields, more flexibility in choice of feedstock materials, or lower cost.

For our purposes, BCC Research uses the following working definition for synthetic biology: Synthetic biology uses engineering principles to (1) design and construct new biologic parts, devices or systems, or (2) to redesign existing natural biologic systems for a given purpose.

Synthetic biology encompasses a range of technologies ranging from gene synthesis to pathway engineering, and likewise, the number of product applications is numerous and growing.

The concept represents a major change in the scope of biotechnology. The existing paradigm of genetic engineering is to modify existing genetic material, cells or organisms, usually one gene or modification at a time. The paradigm change of synthetic biology involves applying engineering principles to biology to design new biologic systems for a particular purpose, often making multiple changes in parallel. Synthetic biology operates on a much more complex scale than genetic engineering.

Systems biology is related to synthetic biology because it studies interactions and relationships among different parts of biologic systems. For example, how do gene and protein networks influence metabolic pathways or cell signaling? Because synthetic biology seeks to construct biologic systems or parts thereof, understanding how the components of such systems interact is an important area of study.

Nanobiotechnology is related to synthetic biology since it studies biologic components of nanometer size. DNA, a key component of synthetic biology systems, has a diameter of 2 nanometers, and thus fits within the realm of nanobiotechnology. Synthetic biology provides a framework for developing nanobiotechnology in a more systematic manner.

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Topics: Life Sciences, Biotechnology