Synthetic Biology

Re-engineered biology to create and improve organisms.

What is synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is a broad term referring to the manipulation of metabolic pathways to coax microbes to manufacture proteins in a highly predictable manner through the use of engineering principles. Sometimes individual genes are modified and sometimes entire genomes are edited for desired characteristics.

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary field that combines principles from biology, engineering, and computer science to design and construct biological parts, devices, and systems with novel functions or capabilities. It has the potential to impact academic and industrial applications including the creation of novel therapeutics and vaccines, plant science and biofuels. The focus is often on generating, characterizing, and isolating parts of natural biological systems before using them as components of an engineered biological pathway.

A trademark of synthetic biology is the application of rational principles to the design and assembly of these biological components. Even with rational design, the impact of introducing foreign DNA into a cell can be difficult to predict. This creates the need to test multiple permutations to obtain the desired outcome. An emphasis on the modular design of DNA parts enables the assembly of a greater variety of potential constructs by interchanging the individual components. Automation of the assembly process reduces the time, labor, and cost of generating multiple constructs to allow for an increase of throughput with an overall shortened development cycle.

In this process, double-stranded DNA fragments are designed for easy gene construction. The assembled constructs are typically cloned into an expression vector and verified with colony qPCR or Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS). However, in some high-throughput workflows this verification step can be optional. The synthetic constructs are then analyzed in variety of functional assays. After learning from the assay results, the constructs can then be modified or refined. This design, build, test, learn cycle is repeated until a DNA construct is obtained that produces the desired function.

The Design, Build, Test, Learn (DBTL) approach for a high-throughput molecular cloning workflow

The Design-Build-Test-Learn (DBTL) approach used in strain engineering has an almost limitless potential to design and develop large, diverse libraries of biological strains. This often requires robust and repeatable, high-throughput molecular cloning workflows to increase the productivity of target molecules such as nucleotide transcripts, proteins, and metabolites. Successful synthetic biology often relies on the power of microbes. Traditional screening methods of transformed bacterial colonies using sterile pipette tips, toothpicks, or inoculation loops are highly prone to human error, labor-intensive, and time-consuming, creating bottlenecks in your molecular cloning workflows.

High-throughput synthetic biology applications such as strain engineering will benefit greatly from the increased productivity of a robot-controlled microbial colony picker such as our QPix Microbial Colony Picker, which picks up to 30,000 colonies per day with automatic pick run data tracking and database management. QPix system can be integrated into an end-to-end molecular workflow, which allows users higher throughput and more walkaway time, leading to more opportunity to focus on the learning component of the DBTL approach – informing subsequent designs of new strains.
Example of an integrated system solution for a fully automated molecular cloning workflow

Re-engineer your manual synthetic biology workflow with the QPix automated microbial colony system

  • Plating: Plating is the initial step in synthetic biology research, where microbial cells or genetic constructs are spread onto solid agar plates to form individual colonies. To streamline this process, automated systems such as robotic colony platers can be employed. These systems use high-density arraying techniques, allowing for the simultaneous plating of numerous samples in a precise and efficient manner. This automation saves time and reduces the potential for human error, enabling researchers to plate larger numbers of samples in less time.
  • Screening: After plating, the next step is screening the colonies to identify those of interest. Traditionally, this has been done manually, with researchers visually inspecting and selecting colonies based on certain characteristics. However, to increase throughput, automated colony screening systems are becoming increasingly popular. These systems utilize image analysis and machine learning algorithms to rapidly identify and categorize colonies based on predefined criteria. Automating this process allows large numbers of colonies to be screened quickly, saving time and reducing subjectivity.
The QPix system can pick 3,000 colonies per hour accurately, eliminating common errors associated with manual processes such as double picks or misses.

Benefits of synthetic biology

Accelerated Bioproduction

Synthetic biology enables the rapid development and production of valuable molecules, ranging from biofuels and pharmaceuticals to specialty chemicals. By harnessing the power of genetic engineering, scientists can engineer microorganisms to efficiently produce desired compounds in large quantities. Key advantages include:

  • Sustainability and environmental impact
  • Medical breakthroughs
  • Industrial applications

Metabolic engineering – combining computational modeling, advanced genetic tools, and high-throughput screening – is accelerating the design and optimization of biological pathways. This integrated approach enables scientists to engineer microorganisms with enhanced productivity, paving the way for breakthroughs in bioproduction.

Customer Breakthrough: Fermentalg® uses QPix® 420 colony picker to leverage microalgae metabolism to produce natural food dyes

Synthetic biology applications and resources

Synthetic biology enables the design and construction of bespoke biological systems with desired functionalities.

Latest Resources

Resources for Synthetic Biology