Researchers at the University of California earlier this month formed the UC Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute (SBI) to advance efforts to engineer cells and biological systems. Agilent Technologies is providing infrastructure, expertise, and funding for the new institute. The move signals growing research and commercial interest in the nascent field of synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology came to the public ken last year when the J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI), a genomic-research organization founded and headed by J. Craig Venter, announced the successful construction of the first self-replicating synthetic cell. This represented a significant step in the still-emerging field of synthetic biology. With that proof of principle, JVCI is working on creating an organism that contains the minimal genome required to sustain itself and its replication to be used as a platform for analyzing the function of every essential gene in a cell. The researchers envision eventual wider use of the technology in the development of a range of therapeutic products, such as pharmaceuticals and vaccines.
SBI is looking to take synthetic biology to the next level. SBI’s ultimate aim is to “create an industrial revolution in biological engineering,” said Matthew Tirrell, chair of Berkeley’s Department of Bioengineering and SBI’s founding director. “SBI seeks to bridge the gap between the small-scale, biological engineering of the present and industrial-level production by developing design tools and other infrastructure to produce synthetic biological systems reliably on a large scale.”
“Synthetic biology potentially can have as profound an impact in the 21st century as semiconductor technology had in the 20th,” said William P. Sullivan, Agilent’s CEO and president. “To get there, we need to engineer biological solutions that are scalable, reliable, and safe. This is precisely what the UC Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute is addressing, and why Agilent is enthusiastic about providing infrastructure, expertise, and funding for this new institute.”
This is an interesting new approach to complement or compete with genetic engeering to produce production scale systems. It's clearly many years away and we'll have to see if it will be competitive to the current systems and their large head start in biotechnology.
Posted by Bruce Lehr April 30th 2011.