Synthetic biology could complement genetic engineering by providing tools to synthesize complex gene networks from simpler parts. A new approach, published this week in Nature Biotechnology, promises to make it easier to construct synthetic gene networks for biomedical, research, and industrial applications, such as brewing beer and producing biofuels.
James Collins and colleagues show how computer modeling and a library of well-characterized cell parts can be used to predict the behavior of a gene network before it is built. This eliminates much of the inefficient guess-work and trial-and-error tweaking that plagues traditional genetic engineering efforts today. The researchers use their approach to engineer yeast cells that clump together after a specified amount of time, a critical parameter to various applications, such as when brewing beer.