SynBio aims to create new biological components that don’t exist in nature – either from scratch or redesigning natural parts. Whether to start afresh or start with something that already works splits the two approaches to synthetic biology:
- bottom up – using manufactured biomolecular components and synthesising them into living structures
- top down – giving new, or novel, functions to already living cells using genetic engineering
Although evolution has created some amazing machines, at every level from proteins to mammals, it is unguided and therefore may have missed opportunities whilst it was just trying to survive in the harsh environment.
Examples of applications within healthcare and life extension include:
- cell transformation – improving the function of existing cells with human designed gene circuits and organelles
- designer proteins – instead of improving the processes natural proteins take part in, it’s possible to improve the design of the proteins themselves
- drug delivery – building logic into bacteria allowing better targeting of pharmaceuticals, therefore reducing some of their side-effects (a synthetic call LOCKR has already been designed to provide this sort of logic)
- biosensors – e.g. using modified bacteria to detect and report on infections
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