Synthetic Biologist Drew Endy: Programming Living Systems
Drew Endy Builds Genomes
Synthetic biologist Endy works with the nuts and bolts of living things.
Contain all of an organism's genetic material
May reveal how genes affect health
Are all genomes identical?
Photo: L. Barry Hetherington
Each organism has its own genome
But all organisms within a species have genomes with similar, or even identical, "parts"
Sometimes the parts are similar to those in other species, too
Genome organizationthe order in which genes string togethercreates templates for living things as diverse as people, penguins, and petunias
Models for Discovery
Bacteriophage: a virus that infects and destroys bacteria
Endy and other scientists study the genome of the T7 bacteriophage
Produce 60 proteins that direct stages and types of infection
Genes cluster into several distinct classes
T7 bacteriophage switches from expression of one class of genes to another to assure successful infection
Genome of T7 bacteriophage
Problem: DNA in T7 bacteriophage is a program that needs to be decoded
Typical approach: Pry apart genome to investigate the function of each gene
Endy's approach: Use genome's parts to construct a synthetic, model genome of T7 bacteriophage that includes not only viral genes but also "cut-and-paste" sites in its DNA
Investigate genes one-by-one
Build genome from scratch, then study how whole thing works
Advances in Synthetic Biology
Endy's synthetic T7 bacteriophage genome has "cut-and-paste" sites in its DNA
Many genetic devices are designed to work only in the labs in which they were made
There was no common framework for organizing all the components of biological machines
What purpose do these DNA sites serve?
How did Endy and his coworkers overcome this challenge, and how have they shared this knowledge with other researchers?
What did Endy do to resolve this problem?
Adventures in Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology draws from skills in engineering and biology
Endy created a comic book to help explain it
Image: Drew Endy, Isadora Deese, Chuck Wadey
On the Same Page
The iGEM Competition
Launched in 2004
Community teaching tool that inspires students to build genetic machines with standard biological parts
2006 contest hosted teams from 37 schools from around the world (Slovenia was the grand-prize winner)
Photo: Melissa Li
The Future Is Now
Run relay races
Lie down to create a modern version of the Etch A Sketch® toy
Work as photographic film
Synthetic bacteria can work as machines
World's first living photograph
Photo: Aaron Chevalier (UT Austin), Jeff Tabor (UCSF)
What are some of the ethical and social dilemmas regarding synthetic biology?