Award Is a Step Closer to a Web of Registries of Synthetic Biological Parts and Design Tools

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

In 2012, the NSF-funded Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley, was awarded an NSF Cyberinfrastructure supplement  to develop a distributed software platform to accelerate the sharing of composable biological elements (genes, plasmids, etc.) across the synthetic biology research community. The platform is essentially an open-source web application for laboratories to track and search their findings.

Impact/benefits: 

The new support will help SynBERC advance its goal of building a robust node in the “Web of Registries” of available quality parts and tools for design communities to use in engineering biological systems. Active parts registries are a vital prerequisite to achieving a critical mass of infrastructure, contributions, and quality components for the design community in this important emerging field.

Explanation/Background: 

Although our ability to edit DNA has led to impressive biotechnology applications, it still usually takes many years of work and trial-and-error experiments to achieve results. This project aims to increase the efficiency of bioengineering by providing a formal infrastructure for biotechnologists from many institutions and disciplines to access and share information and material through registries of biological parts.

The SynBERC team also aims to cultivate a community of users to help identify the needs of researchers in designing and building biological systems from digital registries, as well as to incorporate the efforts of collaborators working on biological engineering standards to develop a data architecture conforming to best practices. To provide incentive for parts creators to use this shared environment, the infrastructure is being constructed to be compatible with existing and emerging computer-aided design tools for synthetic biological systems. The ultimate goal of these activities is to bring together a growing number of composable biological parts, design tools, and users to speed and simplify biological engineering.

The initial node of the Web of Registries to be developed was MIT's Registry of Standard Biological Parts (RSBP), which records and indexes biological parts and offers synthesis and assembly services to construct new parts, devices, and systems. (MIT is a SynBERC partner.) The RSBP is an invaluable resource for teams engaged in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) student competition, and has served the nascent synthetic biology community well.