What is it?
Synthetic biologists approach the creation of new biological systems, focusing on finding how life works or how to use it to benefit society. It can be a biological approach such as inserting man-made DNA into a living cell or an engineering approach of building the new biological system as a platform for various technologies; and rewriting, rebuilding the natural systems to provide the engineered surrogates. One of the big challenges to engineering biological systems is that biology is both noisy and seemingly random. That is, biological systems don’t always do things in a manner that is as predictable as an electrical circuit. However, biology has its own organizing principles and properties that Synthetic Biologists seek to exploit (or overcome) whenever possible: taking advantage of millions of years of evolutionary pressure that every biological system has at its functional core.
How we use it?
Many Synthetic Biologists are Genetic Engineers: changing genes in an organism (like a bacterium) or exchanging genes between organisms. Some of these Genetic Engineers also write computer codes to try and model and predict how gene expression will function in a complex environment. However, there are other Synthetic Biologists that make use of the unique properties found in biology like Watson-Crick base-pairing, connective tissue plasticity or biological adhesion to come up with designs that use these properties directly or mimic them to “borrow” their functionality. For SynBio (as the field is commonly called) it is always about gaining function.
Industrial careers are varied and can include biotechnology companies, material design firms, drug companies, energy producers and consultants, patent lawyers and investment advisors. Synthetic Biology is still a very new field (except for the genetic engineering faction) and jobs are only starting to be more plentiful. Many of these jobs are invented as part of efforts to commercialize research developments in Synthetic Biology.
Core courses to help you prepare
• BEE 3600 – Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering