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Synthetic biology news from the lab bench #4

Here’s our pick of the most interesting research news this week:

Protein engineering

?‍?This review by scientists at Caltech (including Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold, a keynote speaker at SynBioBeta 2019) covers basic concepts relevant to the use of machine learning for protein engineering. They look to future opportunities for machine learning to enable the discovery of unknown protein functions and uncover the relationship between protein sequence and function.

Expanded genetic code

?The engineering of semi-synthetic organisms seemed to have stalled. To help them pick up the pace, scientists based at Scripps Research tested different combinations of unnatural base pairs in Escherichia coli and observed which ones were replicated most efficiently and produced the highest levels of a protein. The team then used these optimized base pairs to demonstrate, for the first time, a semi-synthetic organism that could make a protein containing multiple noncanonical amino acids. And the production of this protein was gratifyingly efficient, according to GEN. [Article]

?“Ongoing efforts in synthetic biology aim to construct (micro)organisms with (pre)defined properties. A recent breakthrough is the chemical synthesis of a recoded Escherichia coli genome by Fredens et al. (Nature, 2019). Besides the conceptual and technological tour de force, the consequences of this unprecedented effort for whole-cell biocatalysis are multifold,” writes Pablo Nikel.

?A special issue of Genes on “Synthetic DNA and RNA Programming” features 12 original research articles and reviews that cluster into four thematic categories: genetic code expansion, genetic code evolution, novel genetic systems and molecular tools, and RNA programming.

Genome editing for bioenergy

?A team at the DOE Joint Genome Institute has optimized a crucial part of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to enable improvements in microbial oil production. “Cas9 needs guide RNA to lead it to the correct sequence to snip—but not all guides are effective. To ensure the gene editing tool will make the right cut, researchers created a set of guide RNAs that were effective against 94 percent of the genes in a lipid-prolific yeast.” [Article]

A ‘bits-to-biology’ converter

?‍?Scientists look to synthetic biology and 3D printing for life support in space: In an opinion piece, researchers envision using synthetic biology to produce custom, biological “ink” to 3D-print whatever may be needed over the course of a mission. [Article]


?‍⚕️A team from The University of Manchester have engineered Escherichia coli to produce a new class of antibiotics: Using the synthetic and systems biology toolbox, a plug-and-play biosynthetic platform can serve as an engine for the production of new and diversified bioactive polyketides in an automated, rapid, and versatile fashion. [Article]

?‍⚕️Biomedical engineers at Penn State have developed “a process to build protective, synthetic plant cell walls around animal cells. The work, published in Nature Communications, could hold significant potential for a variety of medical and biomanufacturing applications for human health.”

Check out last week’s research roundup and let us know what we missed:


Marianna Limas

Marianna plays a critical role in displaying and communicating SynBioBeta’s message to the world. She manages SynBioBeta’s social media channels and newsletter, and works with the editorial, website, research and marketing teams.

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