What is synthetic biology?
Synthetic biology is an emerging field of bioengineering that utilizes concepts and information from a variety of research areas, such as genetics, biophysics, microbiology or molecular biology, to develop methods and tools to engineer and repurpose natural biological systems for applications in biomedicine and biotechnology.
Applications of synthetic biology
Cells contain many regulatory and genetic circuits that can sense and respond to different environmental signals. Biosensing tools analyze and process these signals to detect a specific compound. Biosensing circuits can be programmed at the transcriptional, translational, and post-translational levels.
Synthetic biology is expanding therapeutic platforms by identifying disease mechanisms and drug-targets, screening for new drugs, developing better ways of delivering therapeutics, and creating biological devices that are therapies themselves.
Leveraging microorganisms using synthetic biology hold promising alternatives for energy production, decreasing the cost of drug production, and advancing the existing biomaterials or new materials. Scientists have been examining the design and construction of functional and predictable biosynthetic pathways de novo in host organisms like E. coli.
Genetic engineering such as recombinant DNA technology are methods to physically construct and assemble biomolecular components. For example, human proteins such as insulin and growth hormones to treat diseases can be produced in genetically modified organisms.
Gene editing or genome editing is a way for scientists to change DNA by adding, removing, replacing, or altering parts of the genome. The CRISPR-Cas9 system, for example, is a well-known approach to gene editing. Research in the field of gene therapy supports the treatment of a wide variety of diseases including genetic mutations along human chromosomes.
Gene expression controls the process in which cells produce RNA and proteins. Understanding and regulating gene expression is an essential component in most gene therapies.
Using engineering principles, scientists deconstruct genetics into biological parts and explore how they can be redesigned and combined to yield de novo functions in a living system. Synthetic biology researchers need to have a fundamental understanding of biology, physics, chemistry and engineering to manipulate complex biological systems.
Synthetic biology research at Illinois
Bioengineering Faculty Researchers
Some researchers in the department of bioengineering are modifying the genomes of living cells to correct diseases while others manipulate bacteria to create novel drugs. Learn more bout our faculty and their research focus.
Graduate researcher spotlight
Bioengineering Ph.D. candidate Jackson Winter currently works in bioengineering professor Pablo Perez-Pinera's lab where he is developing gene therapies for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a lethal genetic condition that currently has no cure.
The lab environment is great, and professor Perez-Pinera is an excellent and very supportive mentor. He has a true vision for innovative research.