Journal of Biotechnology 169 (2014) iii

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Synthetic biology changing the face of biotechnology

Biological disciplines have been defined inspired by the scale of the problem from the molecular to the organismic, population or ecosystem level. However, systems biology strives for a quantitative, dynamic, and theoretically representable understanding of cellular modules up to whole cells requiring integration of all these levels. During the last decade progress in experimental technologies ranging from single molecule analyses to global monitoring methodologies at genome and post-genome level combined with mathematical modeling have fundamentally accelerated our understanding of natural biological systems. These achievements together with considerable advances in DNA synthesis have opened up the application of engineering principles to molecular biology and founded the field of synthetic biology. Research in synthetic biology surpasses the manipulation of single genes or proteins and aims at the rational design of larger integrated biological systems with custom-tailored characteristics constructed with standardized building blocks. This focus on design, modularity, and standardization immanent to engineering distinguishes synthetic biology from traditional molecular and cellular biology. On the one hand, analytical and synthetic research lines aim at the definition and reconstruction of elementary building blocks and modules to gain basic insights into the functionality of cells and fundamental features of life. This follows the idea that “Testing of understanding by building is the shortest path to demonstrate what you know and what you don’t know”, as Drew Endy from Stanford University stated in a video clip. On the other hand, engineering strategies are more and more introduced into biotechnology to synthesize new functional units, to combine them, and to integrate them into the cellular system, in order to produce organisms with new characteristics and application potential.

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Synthetic Biology is an exponentially growing discipline which promises novel solutions in a wide array of applications including industrial, medical, pharmaceutical, and environmental areas. Microorganisms play an important role in nature and industry: they are energy suppliers, are applied in food processing, and are used in large-scale production of bio-based renewable raw materials and pharmaceuticals. Synthetic microbiology has evolved to a potent approach to provide fundamental knowledge and tools for tapping the application potential of microorganisms in a biobased economy. Moreover, numerous examples demonstrated the power of synthetic biology also in mammalian systems promising an incredible potential in medicine and pharmacy. Although, synthetic approaches have already successfully been applied in many different research areas, numerous fundamental scientific and engineering challenges have to be solved in order to make rational biological engineering a routine. Consequently, in synthetic biology boundaries between basic and applied science will remain blurred. Yet, it can be foreseen that synthetic biology will have a huge impact on biotechnology in the same sense as genome research and systems biology have revolutionized it during the last decade. The Journal of Biotechnology is reflecting on these fundamental developments by identifying synthetic biology as central to the future progress in biotechnology and motivates authors to submit manuscripts in this field. Anke Becker Center for Synthetic Biology, Philipps-Universität Marburg, D-35032 Marburg, Germany E-mail address: [email protected]

Synthetic biology changing the face of biotechnology.

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