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Published On: March 28th, 2023Categories: Articles, Synthetic Biology

What is synthetic biology? According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, synthetic biology is “a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.” Often called syn-bio, the field is helpful in several applications, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and medicine.

Syn-bio allows this redesigning of organisms so that they can gain new abilities. An example of this can be rice modified by adding beta-carotene to it. Beta-carotene contains vitamin A and is mainly found in carrots. Adding it to other foods can help those with vitamin A deficiencies. As syn-bio’s umbrella is over many industries, it can also do so much more. Read on to learn more about synthetic biology, its history, synthetic biology trends, and more about the synthetic biology market.

The History of Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology, compared to other areas of science, is relatively new. Syn-bio was first mentioned in 1910 in Stéphane Leduc’s publication Théorie physico-chimique de la vie et générations spontanées; however, at this point, it was only a theory. In 1944, scientist Oswald Avery revealed that chromosomes and genes are present in DNA, which is considered the backbone of synthetic biology (and DNA research).

The first molecular cloning did not occur until 1973 by Cohen, Boyer, et al, and this is considered by many to be the true beginning of synthetic biology. In 1988, the first DNA amplification by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using a thermostable DNA polymerase occurred.

In the 2000s and after, syn-bio began to advance quickly. In 2003, BioBrick standard parts were introduced as an assembly mechanism, and in 2004 the first international synthetic biology conference was held at MIT. The first bacterial genome, called M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0, was published in the journal Science. In 2019, a bacterial genome was made entirely by computer. In 2020, the first xenobot was invented, a programmable synthetic organism derived from frog cells and designed by AI. New advances continue to happen every year.

What Are Some Goals and Trends in Synthetic Biology?

Syn-bio is constantly advancing and changing, but it does have certain goals and trends. Some of the goals of synthetic biology include:

  • Development of standardized biological parts – building biological systems by cataloging and identifying standardized genome parts
  • Synthetic genomics – designing and constructing simple genomes for a natural bacterium
  • Applied protein design – the redesigning of biological parts and expansion of natural protein functions
  • Natural product synthesis – engineering of microbes to produce biological functions and enzymes to perform multistep natural product production

Synthetic and systems biology (the study of complex natural biological systems) often integrate together. Genetic engineering and syn-bio can often get confused, but genetic engineering is the transfer of genes from one cell or microbe to another, while syn-bio assembles microbial genomes from standardized genetic parts that are eventually inserted into the cell or microbe. Vaccines using synthetic biology are also a priority. Syn-bio speeds up vaccine development and can help build a sustainable vaccine industry.

Some applications and examples of syn-bio include the creation of bio-based specialty products, sustainable production of biofuels, and the manufacture and production of enzymes.

Synthetic Biology Equipment & Tools

A synthetic biology lab will use various equipment and tools, depending on the processes and applications. Automated equipment and lab tools are a necessity. Some of the equipment and tools you would find in a syn-bio lab include:

  • Spectrophotometer
  • Nanodrop
  • Oven
  • Thermocycler
  • Centrifuge
  • Incubator
  • pH meter
  • Vortex
  • Pipettes and micropipettes 
  • Automatic purification system
  • Fluorimeter
  • System  for  the  purification  and  drying  of solvents
  • Freeze dryer
  • Separation module

There is certainly other equipment you’d find in a common syn-bio lab; this is not a comprehensive list.

Wondering how to complete your lab and streamline your synthetic biology processes? Contact Hudson Robotics today to speak with a representative and receive a quote.