Computer industry tool used to engineer synthetic life

By using computer tools, scientists have figured out a reliable way to engineer the next generation of biofuels, biodegradable plastics, and drugs. Enter a more sustainable future...

Now that computer assisted design tools have made their way into engineering biology, in the future we can expect microbes to be made in a similar way -- but to produce more sustainable products rather than computer chips.

Traditionally, computer assisted design (CAD) tools have helped the computer industry make transistors. Now, a similar method could help scientists produce the next generation of biofuels, biodegradable plastics, and drugs -- as well as other types of sustainable materials.

The famous professor Jaw Keasling at Berkeley is behind this CAD-assisted design. In a statement, Keasling said:

“Our work establishes a foundation for developing CAD platforms to engineer complex RNA-based control systems that can process cellular information and program the expression of very large numbers of genes. Perhaps even more importantly, we have provided a framework for studying RNA functions and demonstrated the potential of using biochemical and biophysical modeling to develop rigorous design-driven engineering strategies for biology.”

In this particular case, the CAD-tools were applied to engineering RNA. If synthetic biology is going to progress as many thought leaders such as J. Craig Venter have predicted, CAD-tools for the synthetic biology field better mature to a level of sophistication that already exists in other engineering disciplines.

No doubt, a major challenge will be to get the CAD-tools to be simple enough so non-experts can also use it. The idea is to get it accurate enough, so that metabolic pathways can be predicted as easily as a chemical engineer can change the design variables by changing a valve in the production plant, the Berkeley statement said.

And of course, the product has to be desirable. The trick will be to engineer microbes capable of digesting biomass -- and produce a product good enough to replace existing transportation fuels.

via Berkeley lab

Photo via Zosia Rostomian, Berkeley Lab

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