New Tool Improves Genetic Engineering of Microbial Circuits

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Researchers at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley, have developed an “adaptor” that makes genetic engineering of microbial components substantially easier and more predictable.

Impact/benefits: 

Biological systems composed of modular parts with clearly-defined interactions are generally easier to control than complex systems with a large number of subtle interactions. However, using simple modular parts to replicate the function of a naturally complex system can make lead to fragility. The new adaptor addresses the issue by enabling important functions in a chemical process to reverse roles, resulting in more consistent and controlled adaptability of modular parts to environmental changes.

Explanation/Background: 

The SynBERC team’s adaptor modifies the “regulatory networks” involved in genetic engineering. Regulatory networks enable bacteria to adapt to almost every environmental niche on earth. Regulation is achieved by a network of interactions among diverse types of molecules, including DNA, RNA, and proteins. The primary role of regulatory networks in bacteria is to control the response to environmental changes, such as nutritional status and environmental stress. A complex organization of networks allows an organism to coordinate and integrate multiple environmental signals. Along with other SynBERC tools, the new adaptor makes biological circuit design more predictable, dramatically increasing the efficiency, safety, and sophistication of genetic engineering.