Bottom-Up Synthetic Biology: Engineering in a Tinkerer’s World

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Science  02 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6047, pp. 1252-1254
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211701

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How synthetic can “synthetic biology” be? A literal interpretation of the name of this new life science discipline invokes expectations of the systematic construction of biological systems with cells being built module by module—from the bottom up. But can this possibly be achieved, taking into account the enormous complexity and redundancy of living systems, which distinguish them quite remarkably from design features that characterize human inventions? There are several recent developments in biology, in tight conjunction with quantitative disciplines, that may bring this literal perspective into the realm of the possible. However, such bottom-up engineering requires tools that were originally designed by nature’s greatest tinkerer: evolution.

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