Using synthetic biology to explore principles of development
Development 2017 144: 1146-1158; doi: 10.1242/dev.144196
Developmental biology is mainly analytical: researchers study embryos, suggest hypotheses and test them through experimental perturbation. From the results of many experiments, the community distils the principles thought to underlie embryogenesis. Verifying these principles, however, is a challenge. One promising approach is to use synthetic biology techniques to engineer simple genetic or cellular systems that follow these principles and to see whether they perform as expected. As I review here, this approach has already been used to test ideas of patterning, differentiation and morphogenesis. It is also being applied to evo-devo studies to explore alternative mechanisms of development and ‘roads not taken’ by natural evolution.
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