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J R Soc Interface. 2009 Aug 6;6 Suppl 4:S507-21. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0110.focus. Epub 2009 May 27.

Towards the engineering of in vitro systems.

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  • 1Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich, Basle, Switzerland.


Synthetic biology aims at rationally implementing biological systems from scratch. Given the complexity of living systems and our current lack of understanding of many aspects of living cells, this is a major undertaking. The design of in vitro systems can be considerably easier, because they can consist of fewer constituents, are quasi time invariant, their parameter space can be better accessed and they can be much more easily perturbed and then analysed chemically and mathematically. However, even for simplified in vitro systems, following a comprehensively rational design procedure is still difficult. When looking at a comparatively simple system, such as a medium-sized enzymatic reaction network as it is represented by glycolysis, major issues such as a lack of comprehensive enzyme kinetics and of suitable knowledge on crucial design parameters remain. Nevertheless, in vitro systems are very suitable to overcome these obstacles and therefore well placed to act as a stepping stone to engineering living systems.

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