Quality control opens path to synthetic biology’s Ikea

March 29, 2013

(Credit: BioBricks Foundation)

The next industrial revolution could be biological. Think living machines that produce energy from landfill waste, biological sensors that detect dirty water or bacterial production lines that churn out drugs.

These are just some of the applications that synthetic biology — applying engineering principles to biological parts — could make possible, New Scientist reports.

That goal is looking more likely now that, for the first time, researchers have established a set of rules that could allow parts to be assembled with industrial rigor. Libraries of these standardized high-quality parts will let engineers pick components knowing how they will behave.

Researchers have been building one-off biological machines by combining several of these parts for years. But, because there is little quality control, producing them on an industrial scale has so far been impossible. To change this, Drew Endy, co-director of the BIOFAB facility in California, and his colleagues have developed a mathematical framework to show how each part interacts with others and whether this results in the right amount of the right product being made.

The work involved physically testing out hundreds of combinations of common biological components and using the results to create a scoring system, effectively establishing a standard of excellence that should let engineers build their most reliable devices yet (Nucleic Acids Research, doi.org/kw7). …