Synthetic Biology: nova publicação científica promovendo a revolução biológico-cibernética

quarta-feira, outubro 26, 2016

Synthetic Biology: fostering the cyber-biological revolution

Jean Peccoud

First published online: 15 June 2016


Since the description, in 2000, of two artificial gene networks, synthetic biology has emerged as a new engineering discipline that catalyzes a change of culture in the life sciences. Recombinant DNA can now be fabricated rather than cloned. Instead of focusing on the development of ad-hoc assembly strategies, molecular biologists can outsource the fabrication of synthetic DNA molecules to a network of DNA foundries. Model-driven product development cycles that clearly identify design, build, and test phases are becoming as common in the life sciences as they have been in other engineering fields. A movement of citizen scientists with roots in community labs throughout the world is trying to democratize genetic engineering. It challenges the life science establishment just like visionaries in the 70s advocated that computing should be personal at a time when access to computers was mostly the privilege of government scientists. Synthetic biology is a cultural revolution that will have far reaching implications for the biotechnology industry. The work of synthetic biologists today prefigures a new generation of cyber-biological systems that may to lead to the 5th industrial revolution. By catering to the scientific publishing needs of all members of a diverse community, Synthetic Biology hopes to do its part to support the development of this new engineering discipline, catalyze the culture changes it calls for, and foster the development of a new industry far into the twenty first century.
On January 20, 2000, Nature published two articles reporting the design, fabrication, and characterization of two artificial gene networks. Timothy Gardner, Jim Collins, and Charles Cantor described a genetic toggle switch that could be flipped between an ON and OFF states using transient environmental signals [1]. Michael Elowitz and Stanislas Leibler described the Repressilator, a genetic circuit that exhibited oscillations of the expression of a reporter gene [2].
On the face of it, these two articles looked like biology papers. They included the description of new plasmids and reported data collected with instruments commonly used by biologists. And there was nothing particularly new in these experiments. Many molecular biologists had the skills necessary to assemble and characterize these plasmids but none of them thought of designing them. It took the minds of a mechanical engineer (T. Gardner) and a physicist (M. Elowitz) to imagine these circuits. The novelty of these articles was not so much in their biological aspect as it was in the applications of engineering principles to the design of circuits encoded in DNA molecules. These two articles have been a source of inspiration for many of us. They have catalyzed the emergence of a movement of dreamers aspiring to engineer DNA like their parents engineered silicon. This movement eventually led to the emergence of synthetic biology as a new field of engineering [3–5].
Fifteen years later, we have come to appreciate the culture change that synthetic biology calls for. We see many indications that this specialty has the potential to support an industrial revolution fueled by the emergence of cyber-biological systems across many segments of the economy. The dynamics between scientific breakthroughs and innovative industrial applications is well illustrated by the career paths of the discipline pioneers. Gardner left academia for industry 10 years ago to join one of the first synthetic biology startups while Elowitz stayed in academia where his work continues to deeply renew our understanding of biological processes.
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