Foundational Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology is a field that applies rigorous engineering paradigms from electric engineering and computer science (i.e. modularity, orthogonality, tunability, and composability) to genetic engineering. It aims to program living cells with novel functions, such as Boolean operations, analog computing, signal integration, and event recording, to enable sophisticated user-defined functions for sense-and-respond adaptive therapies – medicines that can change their behaviors in response to the disease condition. Combining synthetic biology with bioinformatics and machine learning enables us to identify ideal targetable disease signatures, explore a very large circuit design space, and reliably predict circuit performance.
After years of promise and hype, it is about time we synthetic biologists deliver results. Engineering biology is hard, even when having all the tools and design principles from traditional engineering disciplines to harness. We indeed program cells. But our current capacity to program cells is like tweaking one line of code to a state-of-art operation system consisting of 100 million lines of codes. Yet the impact this one line of code made is far from ignorable. We are constantly thinking of the following questions: 1) What is the best balance between harnessing already existing cellular programs (bio-inspired) and building new devices from the ground up, 2) How to most efficiently build computation devices (e.g., logic gates [Fig. 1], memory circuits) for biomedical applications, 3) How to steer away from building proof-of-concept circuits and develop circuits that are truly useful. It requires an interdisciplinary team to solve genetic engineering. If you have a passion for building things, there is definitely something for you in synthetic biology. It is about time we synthetic biologists deliver!