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Building Novel Biological Systems for Useful Purposes

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Synthetic biologists design and build novel organisms to generate products not made by natural systems. This process may involve constructing entirely new biological systems from a set of standard parts—genes, proteins, and metabolic pathways—or redesigning existing biological systems. The tools of synthetic biology also can be used to study the interior of living cells at the molecular level, providing critical new information and insight into the machinery of life and the natural world. Synthetic biology holds promise for advances in many areas, including the development of renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources; nonpolluting biological routes for the production of chemicals; safer and more effective pharmaceuticals; and better environmental remediation technologies. At JBEI, researchers are using synthetic biology to develop new platform hosts for producing enzymes and fuels and to create biomolecular parts and devices for constructing new fuel-generating organisms and improved plants. Among other advances, such goals will be achieved through the improved capabilities of fermentative organisms to tolerate processing conditions and inhibit unwanted by-products. Capabilities also will be engineered into fuel-producing organisms to convert 5-carbon sugars into fuel and make use of lignin monomers. Following the strategy that biological systems can be revamped more effectively or built from scratch if standardized parts are employed, investigators are assembling a catalog of well-characterized biosynthetic components to help in designing, testing, optimizing, and implementing integrated large-scale biosynthetic units. These tools and principles, used by JBEI Chief Executive Officer Jay Keasling to develop a relatively inexpensive microbial-based alternative for producing the antimalarial drug artemisinin, will aid in developing the next generation of biofuels.

Credit or Source: Image courtesy of Manfred Auer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


US DOE. 2010. Bioenergy Research Centers: An Overview of the Science, DOE/SC-0127, US Department of Energy. (p. 10) (website)

Prepared by the Biological and Environmental Research Information System, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and