- In February 2022, DBT in a paper mooted the need for a National Policy on Synthetic Biology.
- It is aimed has striking a balance between harnessing the potential benefits and mitigating potential risks of the synthetic biology.
What is synthetic biology?
- While biotechnology is the use and modification of biological organisms to produce useful product synthetic biology is the construction of novel biological systems to produce useful products.
- It is a novel field in biology that work bottoms-up as opposed to top-down approach of biotechnology.
- This has been made possible as a result of the development of bioinformatics which has opened the gate for producing novel products by mimicking nature.
- Photosynthesis: CO2+H2O -> Carbohydrate
- As we understand the design of plants at the molecular level, we will be able to design similar systems to do the same artificially. This is what we do in artificial leaf.
- This is an example of mimicking a single system.
- Another way is to engineer 2 or more biological system to produce useful products.
- Under the following example we are merging photosynthesis of cyanobacteria to produce chain of carbohydrates (starch) and anerobic respiration of so-produced starch by E.coli to produce alcohol.
1st Artificial cell: Synthia
- In 2010, a US scientist created of the world’s first artificial with a synthetic chromosome. (Synthia)
- In 2016, the same scientist created an artificial cell with smallest known genome ever that he completely created from scratch (473 genes) called syn 3.0. (Synthia 3.0)
Synthetic Bases: A 8-letter DNA: Hachimojo
- Japanese scientists have produced an 8-letter DNA instead of 4-lettered one the nature has produced.
- 4 out of 8 were natural (AGCT) and 4 artificial ones (SBPZ).
- This could have potential benefits in DNA Data storage.
This is the latest synthetic genome we have created till date.
- With the advancement in our understanding of genes and gene expression we could make synthetic genomes to express very specific traits with specific applications. Some potential areas could be
- Producing synthetic algae for high-efficiency photosynthesis that can be used in CCUS technology.
- Synthetic microbes as agents of bioremediation: Eg: There are plastic eating bacteria we know of. However they are suitable only for certain kinds of plastics. If we can mimic the process with synthetic genome, we can have novel organisms that can be used for bioremediation.
- Can replace Genetically Modified biologics like insulin.
- Antibiotics are now being made by engineering a completely artificial gene sequence to code for a protein (polypeptides). These are known to kill E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus etc
- Anti-malarial polypeptide is made using an artificial sequence.
- T-RNAs made to express have found to kill Leishmania a protozoa that causes Kala Azar a vector-borne disease caused by sandfly.
Recoding Life: HGP-write
HGP-Write has announced a project to produce ultra-safe cells completely secure from virus attacks by ‘recoding’ the genome. (Refer to HGP-Write above)
- It is the combination of additive manufacturing and tissue engineering to produce artificial tissues and organs.
- Under this process we use biomaterials like cells and biomolecules to fabricate tissue-like materials.
- 3-d printed biomaterials that either made of cells or bio-compatible materials are increasingly used for regenerative medicine.
- Eg: 3-d printed cornea, heart, liver, kidney, skins.
- These are robots constructed out of living cells including stem cells to make robots to perform specific actions.
- Xenobots made out of frog embryo cells are already being demonstrated.
- Reproduceable Xenobots have already been created.
- Potential applications include:
- Environmental cleanup: Xenobots can be programmed to identify and remove toxic pollutants from the environment, such as microplastics or oil spills particularly in inaccessible areas.
- Medical applications: Can act as drug delivery vehicles.
- Agriculture: can be used to monitor soil health and crop growth.