Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems. Synthetic biology builds on advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing. Just as engineers now design integrated circuits based on known physical properties of materials and then fabricate functioning circuits and entire processors (with relatively high reliability), synthetic biologists will soon design and fabricate biological entities to accomplish a particular task. To make this happen, biological materials properties (gene sequences, protein properties, natural genetic circuit design) must be formulated into a set of design rules that can then be used to engineer new biological entities. The Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) will lay the foundation for synthetic biology. The research program will develop the foundational understanding and technologies to build biological components and assemble them into an integrated system to accomplish a particular task. The Center's specific aims are 1) to develop a conceptual framework for designing small biological components (parts) that can be assembled into devices that will perform a well-characterized function under specified conditions, 2) to develop a small number of chasses (stable, robust bacterial hosts with known responses) to host the engineered devices and to assemble several devices to accomplish a larger vision or goal, 3) to develop a set of standards for the interactions of the parts and devices so that the devices can be built more readily and reproducibly, 4) to offer the parts, devices, and chasses as open source to other researchers and companies and 5) understand the biological and societal risks associated with synthetic biology and integrate these into the design process. These objectives will be achieved through four thrust areas in 1) Parts and Part Composition, 2) Devices and Device Composition, 3) Chassis Design, Construction, and Characterization, and 4) Societal Issues in Synthetic Biology. Two testbed applications will drive development of the thrusts. The resulting parts, devices, and chasses will be managed through a distributed web of Registries of Standard Biological Parts. SynBERC will offer a complementary education program that will 1) educate a new cadre of biological engineers capable of designing biological components, just as electrical engineers design and build integrated circuits, 2) educate the general public about the benefits and possible risks of synthetic biology, 3) educate public policy students and policy-makers about the benefits and real threats of synthetic biology, and 4) educate K-12 students about the opportunities offered by careers in science, engineering, and synthetic biology. Coupled with a strong outreach program to minority institutions and local community colleges and high schools, SynBERC will increase the participation of minority students in this emerging area and encourage high-school students to enter this exciting new area of engineering. The new discipline, synthetic biology, will transform the biotechnology, high-technology, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries as well as suppliers of genetic tools and custom DNA synthesis companies. SynBERC will partner with key companies in these sectors to invite applications for and advice on our research program, to provide internships for undergraduate and graduate students, to speed technology transfer, and to develop SynBERC funding. Intellectual merit. Synthetic Biology will transform the field of biology into an engineering discipline by introducing into biology the concepts developed in other fields of engineering: ready access to off-the-shelf parts and devices with standard connections; a substrate onto which one can assemble the parts and devices and a power supply for the devices; standards for the basic components to enable their ready integration into a larger functional system; and open-source availability of parts, devices, and chasses. These developments will make the engineering of biology easier and more predictable. SynBERC brings together many of the pioneers (biologists and engineers from world-class institutions) of synthetic biology to work together to lay the foundation for this nascent field. Broader impacts. Synthetic biology (catalyzed by SynBERC) will transform the biotechnology, high-technology, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries, as well as suppliers of genetic tools and custom DNA synthesis companies. SynBERC will educate a new cadre of synthetic biologists and biological engineers capable of designing biological parts and useful biological systems. Finally, SynBERC's education program will provide general information on synthetic biology for the general public, in-depth offerings for public policy professionals, and motivational information on opportunities in higher education for K-12 students.

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University of California Berkeley
United States
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