Issue 4, 2016

Synthetic biology: applying biological circuits beyond novel therapies


Synthetic biology, an engineering, circuit-driven approach to biology, has developed whole new classes of therapeutics. Unfortunately, these advances have thus far been undercapitalized upon by basic researchers. As discussed herein, using synthetic circuits, one can undertake exhaustive investigations of the endogenous circuitry found in nature, develop novel detectors and better temporally and spatially controlled inducers. One could detect changes in DNA, RNA, protein or even transient signaling events, in cell-based systems, in live mice, and in humans. Synthetic biology has also developed inducible systems that can be induced chemically, optically or using radio waves. This induction has been re-wired to lead to changes in gene expression, RNA stability and splicing, protein stability and splicing, and signaling via endogenous pathways. Beyond simple detectors and inducible systems, one can combine these modalities and develop novel signal integration circuits that can react to a very precise pre-programmed set of conditions or even to multiple sets of precise conditions. In this review, we highlight some tools that were developed in which these circuits were combined such that the detection of a particular event automatically triggered a specific output. Furthermore, using novel circuit-design strategies, circuits have been developed that can integrate multiple inputs together in Boolean logic gates composed of up to 6 inputs. We highlight the tools available and what has been developed thus far, and highlight how some clinical tools can be very useful in basic science. Most of the systems that are presented can be integrated together; and the possibilities far exceed the number of currently developed strategies.

Graphical abstract: Synthetic biology: applying biological circuits beyond novel therapies

Article information

Article type
Review Article
16 Oct 2015
07 Dec 2015
First published
24 Dec 2015

Integr. Biol., 2016,8, 409-430