Shaping the Future of Synthetic Biology
Posted 7th October 2016 by Jane Williams
It can be difficult for researchers at the beginning of their scientific career to make their research known – funding is limited and the field is competitive. So we are pleased to provide six scientists at the start of their career the opportunity to present their work at the 3rd Synthetic Biology Congress.
Bottom-up Assembly of Biomolecules
Currently completing his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Marian Weiss assembles biomolecules through a bottom-up approach by technical means such as microfluidic water-in-oil droplets. Studying minimal synthetic cells in such a way can provide insight into the structure and behaviour of cells.
The nuances and complexity of synthetic biology, coupled with the potential to assemble synthetic structures, attracts many to the field. ‘I am fascinated by the challenge of assembling non-living matter such as proteins to more complex synthetic structures’ he told us.
Synthetic biology provides a hands-on approach to understanding the design principles behind cells. ‘The idea of considering a biological cell as complex machinery, describing and analysing it using physical methods and approaches fascinates me’ Marian says.
Cell-free Synthesis in Complex Systems
Like any other scientific field, synthetic biology is constantly moving forward, and scientists must move with it. For some, continuing that momentum drives them. Zoe Swank is currently completing her PhD at the ÉtheS Polytechnique FFlytech de Lausanne. She spoke to us about the next step is building genetic circuits.
In many cases the transcriptional regulatory networks of certain genes have been studied in great detail, which gives scientists and researchers the basis to build their own networks. However, this can be slowed down by cumbersome molecular techniques. ‘Cell-free synthetic biology sparked my interest as for me, it was the next step in building a more complex system with functional outputs’ Zoe says.
She’s aiming to speed up the process of design-build-test by creating a device that can test various genetic circuits at the same time. ‘The analysis of many circuit designs will lead to a greater understanding of how different biological parts can be combined together to create the desired operational output’.
Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly Production
It is the applications of synthetic biology that draws others to the field. Markus Jeschek is currently completing his PhD at ETH Zurich. His work focuses on the idea of ‘new-to-nature’, which aims to complement and optimise the natural world.
For Markus, synthetic biology provided the opportunity to address the goals of sustainable and environmentally friendly products ‘I was intrigued by the idea that one can specifically modify the basic components of life in order to produce products in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner’.
Indeed, synthetic biology allows us to responsibly shape the future of life in our own best interest. ‘Natural life as we know it today is not an absolute, unquestionable principle carved in stone’ Markus says.
Encouraging talented researchers opens the field up to new ideas, collaborations and future leaders. While those at the start of their careers face a challenge to establish themselves, we are committed to supporting them and the field of synthetic biology.
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