Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

International workshop to discuss unmet needs in ‘design-build-test’ for synbio

In little over a decade, synthetic biology has evolved from demonstrating proof-of-concept gene circuits in bacteria to developing a new class of therapeutic devices (theranostics). However, despite a thriving community, and some noteworthy successes, the task of assembling a predictable gene network from biomolecular parts remains a challenge. It can take many months of trial and error to produce a gene circuit with the desired behavior or phenotype. In engineering terms, we are still far from the efficient, rational ‘Design-Build-Test’ cycle deployed in industrial manufacturing contexts.

To gain consensus about the challenges, and to discuss potential solutions, the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology hosted a workshop on February 22nd and 23rd 2018 in Edinburgh. A principal aim of the workshop, besides knowledge exchange across the different communities, was to start to develop a roadmap document and a focused community to address these challenges through targeted funding applications.

Over 50 people from US, UK and Europe attended the workshop and enjoyed two days of talks and lively discussion. They discussed four key areas:

  • How to automatically design synthetic gene circuits - Bio-design automation;
  • How to design the most informative experiments to characterize such circuits - Optimal Experimental Design;
  • How to use such experiments to obtain reliable mathematical models - Making sense of data;
  • What kind of technologies those experiments should be based on - Technology.  

Outputs of the meeting will be used to develop a community position paper.

You can find out more and join the conversation via the online forum here.

The organisers are very grateful for financial support from Scottish Universities Life Sciences Association.