What is synthetic biology?
The exact definition of synthetic biology is still debated by some. We work along the lines that whenever synthesised genes or DNA are used in place of more conventional cloning, that is synthetic biology. As the price of gene synthesis has dropped, this has been a natural evolution from more traditional molecular biology approaches. The primary advantage –setting synthetic biology apart from previous methods– is that custom synthesis allows every base to be defined, allowing total design of genetic systems.
We are engineering enzymes in the benzylisoquinoline pathway into Escherichia coli. Each enzyme in the pathway is being characterised individually, using synthetic genes to optimise codon usage for bacterial expression. Native enzymes are being engineered to improve substrate specificity using directed evolution and site-directed mutagenesis. Once candidate enzymes have been developed, they will be incorporated in an integrated pathway for the de novo production of chiral alkaloid variants. This work is funded by the BBSRC and is in conjunction with Helen Hailes and Thomas Pesnot (UCL Chemistry).
We are using genetically engineered filamentous bacteriophages and recombinant virus like particles as scaffolds for chemically linking organic molecules and metal ions into regular assemblies. The optical, electronic and spintronic properties of these “molecular wires” are then investigated. The long term aim is to make bio-compatible functional nano-scale devices.
Tim Daffon, Paul Barker, Chris Kay.