In this issue

Synthetic signaling meets endogenous components

Morey et al., Biotechnol. J. 2012, 7, 846–855.

Synthetic biology aims to program biological signaling components for a desired purpose, similar to building electronic circuits. Since biological components are not as well characterized as their electronic counterparts, synthetic biology systems often exhibit unexpected characteristics, which are highly dependent on their interaction with endogenous components of the target organism. In this issue, Kevin Morey et al. from the group of June Medford (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA) review the impact of synthetic versus endogenous signaling components in plants, with the example of a system designed to detect explosives. They discuss current research that applies to the design of synthetic signaling systems and improved signaling specificity and also illustrate that synthetic biology is no longer limited to microorganisms.

original image

Synthetic biology challenges molecular biology principles

Forster, Biotechnol. J. 2012, 7, 835–845.

Synthetic biology can be defined as applying engineering principles to biotechnology applications; however, both in vivo and in vitro synthetic biology have the potential to provide further insight that make us re-examine long-held hypotheses and theories in molecular biology. In this issue, Anthony Forster (Uppsala University, Sweden) reviews his work on the application of simplified, purified translation systems for understanding protein synthesis and codon bias, as well as transcription termination in Escherichia coli. The article introduces several examples of how evidence drawn from synthetic biology has challenged hypotheses in basic biology. Some of these may be controversial, but the article intends to explain contradictions and suggests further experiments to clarify these issues.

original image

In silico metabolic engineering without changing metabolite concentrations

Adamczyk and Westerhoff, Biotechnol. J. 2012, 7, 877–883.

The success rate of introducing new functions into a living species is still somewhat unsatisfactory. This is mainly due to a general robustness of cells to cope with internal or external changes. In this issue, Malgorzata Adamczyk and Hans Westerhoff (University of Manchester, UK) ask whether one could use an engineering strategy that does not change metabolite concentrations within the cell, so it does not “notice” that it has been modified. They substitute the yeast glucose transporter plus hexokinase for the Lactococcus lactis phosphotransferase system, in an L. lactis network, which is ‘silent’ in terms of metabolite concentrations and almost all fluxes. This new strategy is shown to be successful in silico and can provide an innovative and improved metabolic engineering strategy.

original image