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Synthetic Biology - Biology as a Science of Synthesis

Latest at the end of the 20th century it become clear that engineering of e.g. different microbial strains for fermentative production is much more efficient than classical chemical engineering. For example, Danielli predicted that “the production of sequence-determined polymers rather than the random polymers…” will create a “degree of sophistication….far beyond thought”.  In 1971 he said: “I am convinced that so many people – even biologists – aren’t aware that biology is moving from an age of analysis into an age of synthesis” [New Scientist, 1971, pp. 124].

We are convinced that the expansion of the genetic code will become a core discipline in Synthetic Biology (SynBio) as it offers an efficient platform for the transfer of numerous chemistries from the synthetic laboratory into the biochemistry of living cells. This should be not surprising as all typical SynBio concepts and notions (reprograming, orthogonalization, system engineering) are fully reflected in our research.

Genetic code engineering is concerned with the possibilities to add either novel base pairs to existing DNA/RNA macromolecules or non-canonical (mainly synthetic) amino acids to the existing repertoire of the canonical 20 amino acids prescribed by the genetic code. The basic aim is reprogramming or the orthogonalization of the protein translation machinery in order to expand the scope of protein biosynthesis by substituting or adding noncanonical amino acids in the genetic code repertoire.

This will inexorably leverage advanced stages of code engineering in the frame of SynBio:  systems bioengineering with novel biological and chemical programming.  (e.g. coupling orthogonal pairs with orthogonal metabolism). In the last step in the evolving populations of cells with fully integrated new chemicals, unexpected life forms and properties began to appear. 

(for details see: Acevedo-Rocha C. G. and Budisa, N. (2011) On the Road towards Chemically Modified Organisms Endowed with a Genetic Firewall. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 50, 6960–6962.)




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