The maturing field of synthetic biology is just about due for a more modular, standardized system of cataloging genetic information. Currently, each research team around the world has to work from scratch to identify and implement relevant components of the genetic assembly process, leading to long development times and escalated costs spent on projects. But things are about to change. Now with funding from the National Science Foundation, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the BioBricks Foundation, researchers from Stanford and Berkeley are setting up an “open-source” lab to develop a large set of interchangeable DNA parts. The organizers of the BIOFAB project (International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology) are taking a lesson from the semiconductor industry that has standardized its production and development cycle to the point where the creation of a new device is essentially a matter of bringing known components together.
From a statement by Stanford University:
BIOFAB takes its name from the fabrication, or fab, service laboratories established in the early semiconductor industry to make it easier for academic and small industrial labs to design and manufacture small quantities of custom chips. Endy [Drew Endy, PhD, an assistant professor in Stanford’s bioengineering department and president of the BioBricks Foundation –ed.] and Arkin [Adam Arkin, PhD, UC-Berkeley professor of bioengineering and head of Synthetic Biology for LBNL’s Physical Biosciences Division –ed.] proposed a similar fab lab for biology more than 10 years ago, but only now, Endy said, is the time ripe for an open and cooperative full-scale production facility.
Nevertheless, of the estimated 3,500 critical control elements in an E. coli bacterium, fewer than 100 have been seriously studied and characterized. Of the 500-plus promoters listed in current registries, for example, fewer than 50 have been measured, Endy said.
BIOFAB is raising additional funds to hire 29 full-time staff who will systematically refine, standardize and characterize the activity of each genetic control element in E. coli, so that large-scale collections of genetic parts can be treated more like standardized components. What the researchers learn in working with E. coli, will then be applied to parts collections in other technologically useful microbes, such as yeast, and used to assemble engineered biological systems.
BIOFAB also will promulgate standards for technical and professional practice through application of resources such as the BioBrick Public Agreement, a new legal framework supporting open technology platforms in genetic engineering.
To best accomplish its goals, the BIOFAB is also fully integrating ethics research within its production planning and operations.
Stanford press release: Lab to be first ‘open-source’ for genetic parts…
Link: International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB)…