Sixty years ago, the structure of DNA was unknown. Today we know enough about DNA to reprogram its instructions to produce synthetic molecules and even cells. As we celebrate a century of MRC-funded advances, Jason Chin from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology speculates about where such research might take us in future.
Synthetic biology is a fascinating new area of science. It’s all about thinking how we might be able to change the way biological systems work, to help us understand them more deeply or to get them to do useful things for us which they can’t normally do.
Its potential applications are broad and, frankly, amazing. For example, some scientists are building biological systems that can count every time a cell divides. In the future this might be used as part of a system to trigger the killing of cells in the human body that have divided more times than expected for a normal cell, such as cancer cells. And beyond medical research, synthetic biology approaches are being investigated to do many other things, from making biofuels to mopping up pollution.
My research involves expanding the available repertoire of amino acids, the twenty building blocks that are strung together to make the proteins which carry out many of the processes that keep us alive. We are working on re-engineering the cellular factories that normally make proteins in a cell to get them to make proteins containing entirely new amino acids that are not found in nature. Read more