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Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2009 Aug;20(4):498-503. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2009.08.001. Epub 2009 Aug 31.

Chemical synthesis using synthetic biology.

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  • 1California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences and Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


An immense array of naturally occurring biological systems have evolved that convert simple substrates into the products that cells need for growth and persistence. Through the careful application of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, this biotransformation potential can be harnessed to produce chemicals that address unmet clinical and industrial needs. Developing the capacity to utilize biology to perform chemistry is a matter of increasing control over both the function of synthetic biological systems and the engineering of those systems. Recent efforts have improved general techniques and yielded successes in the use of synthetic biology for the production of drugs, bulk chemicals, and fuels in microbial platform hosts. Synthetic promoter systems and novel RNA-based, or riboregulator, mechanisms give more control over gene expression. Improved methods for isolating, engineering, and evolving enzymes give more control over substrate and product specificity and better catalysis inside the cell. New computational tools and methods for high-throughput system assembly and analysis may lead to more rapid forward engineering. We highlight research that reduces reliance upon natural biological components and point to future work that may enable more rational design and assembly of synthetic biological systems for synthetic chemistry.

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