Is rational design the best route for synthetic biology?

In an issue of Nature (vol. 509, issue 7499), Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Pamela Silver and Senior Staff Scientist Jeffrey Way argue that rational design can be used to predictably engineer new biological systems. The goal in rational design is to harness our understanding of biology – which has exploded in the last few decades, they say – to build a library of well understood and characterized modular, biological parts, such as genes and proteins, whose functions are well understood and use these parts to assemble new biological systems with predictable and reliable outcomes.

“In the early days of synthetic biology, scientists envisioned building biological systems in the same way that we build computers and engineer physical systems,” Way said. “While the engineering mindset has been very useful in propelling synthetic biology, we have also learned that we need to accept Nature on its own terms and take advantage of the parts and tools that Nature has given us, with all of their wonderful idiosyncrasies.”

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