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What is Synthetic Biology?
"A Scientist discovers that which exists; an Engineer creates that which never was."
- Theodore von Karmen
For a few billion years, evolution has ensured that the natural world is filled with a diverse array of organisms and systems that work. The goal of biology is to study these organisms and systems and explain how they operate in a broad and specific sense.
Synthetic biology uses much of the same techniques and equipment of the biological sciences, but instead of research and new discoveries, a synthetic biologist looks to co-opt and improve upon the genetic blueprints of existing organisms, to design and create novel biological devices and systems.
A synthetic biologist may look to manipulate organisms into bio-factories for the production of biofuels, the uptake of hazardous material in the environment, or creating biological circuits. Microorganisms, in particular, are small, easily powered, are conducive to control, and much of their framework and machinery is known. As the cost of sequencing and DNA synthesis continues to drop, ambitious ideas for synthetic biology are becoming more affordable and achievable, and until then the Registry also provides physical parts through the Repository.
Why Synthetic Biology based on standard parts?
To design these new systems, synthetic biologists will look to natural biological systems to find functional units of DNA or synthesize new ones that do not naturally exist. These functional units are tested and characterized and may become components in a biological device or system. We refer to them as parts: a sequence of DNA that encodes for a specific biological function.
The standard in "standard parts" means that these parts meet established criteria. Assembly Standards, like the BioBrick Standard, ensure compatibility between parts and define how part samples will be assembled together by the engineer. Part samples that belong to the same Assembly Standard can be assembled together creating new, longer, and more complex parts, while still maintaining the format of the Assembly Standard. This idempotent assembly means that any newly composed part will adhere to its Assembly Standard without need for manipulation, and can be used in future assemblies without issue.
The goal of most engineers is to simplify and standardize the process of creation. By simplifying and standardizing biology, the engineer can go on to use parts to create their biological systems without spending time researching each individual component or worrying about how to assemble them together. The goal of the Registry is to aid in this process by creating a library of standard parts that have been tested, characterized, and organized so that users can find what they need when developing new biological systems.