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Mol Syst Biol. 2006; 2: 2006.0028.
Published online May 16, 2006. doi:  10.1038/msb4100073
PMCID: PMC1681505

Synthetic biology: new engineering rules for an emerging discipline

Abstract

Synthetic biologists engineer complex artificial biological systems to investigate natural biological phenomena and for a variety of applications. We outline the basic features of synthetic biology as a new engineering discipline, covering examples from the latest literature and reflecting on the features that make it unique among all other existing engineering fields. We discuss methods for designing and constructing engineered cells with novel functions in a framework of an abstract hierarchy of biological devices, modules, cells, and multicellular systems. The classical engineering strategies of standardization, decoupling, and abstraction will have to be extended to take into account the inherent characteristics of biological devices and modules. To achieve predictability and reliability, strategies for engineering biology must include the notion of cellular context in the functional definition of devices and modules, use rational redesign and directed evolution for system optimization, and focus on accomplishing tasks using cell populations rather than individual cells. The discussion brings to light issues at the heart of designing complex living systems and provides a trajectory for future development.

Keywords: context dependence, engineering biology, multicellular system, synthetic biology

Articles from Molecular Systems Biology are provided here courtesy of The European Molecular Biology Organization and Nature Publishing Group

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