Laboratory Notes 2003

Synthetic Biology: design and assembly of genetic circuits using biobricks

Tom Knight, Senior Research Scientist, EECS

Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab/CSAIL)

One of the key skills of engineers and computer scientists is the ability to leverage the tools of abstraction, standardization, hierarchy, separation of concerns, and insulation to deal with the design and modification of extremely complex systems. Researchers in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (now the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) in collaboration with Biology and Bioengineering are attempting to use these complexity management tools to develop a new engineering discipline. Synthetic biology allows biological systems to be assembled out of standard, well-characterized parts.

With carefully designed assembly and characterization techniques, these researchers are building the MIT standard parts repository and databook. This useful mix-and-match collection of simple biological components, called BioBricks can be assembled into a wide variety of synthetic biological systems. During IAP last January, seventeen students participated in the first MIT Synthetic Biology class, designing standardized parts and system level assemblies, and contributing some of the first parts to the collection.
Many of the initial designs addressed the problem of building simple ring oscillators using a variety of logic forms based on transcriptional repression or mRNA antisense inhibition. Building and testing these simple circuits is one stepping stone on the path to more sophisticated, intentionally controlled synthetic biological systems, with important applications in areas such as medicine and nano-scale fabrication.

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