Just after the grand opening of Northwestern’s new Center for Synthetic Biology, I got an email from a research assistant professor with a background in physics who was excited about synbio and wanted to know how to get up to speed on the field. What follows is a modified version of the email I sent him, which comprises most of the resources I’ve found and have used online to learn about synthetic biology. This post is by no means comprehensive (the list of important labs is especially incomplete, and probably merits its own post), but hopefully this is a useful starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the field.
List of Synthetic Biology Resources
1. There are a lot of really excellent presentations on Youtube which provide broad overviews of synthetic biology and background about where the field came from. Here are a few of them, which I’ve tried to arrange from most accessible to most academic/wonky:
- Synthetic biology: what should we be vibrating about? – Drew Endy. (2014)
- Future Biology – J. Craig Venter. (2011)
- The Future of Human Genomics and Synthetic Biology – George Church. (2014)
- Introduction to Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering – Kristala Prather. (2014)
- Programming Living Bacteria – Christopher Voigt. (2016)
- Synthetic Biology: From Parts to Modules to Therapeutic Systems – Ron Weiss. (2015)
2. For more in-depth background training in cell/molecular biology:
- OpenWetWare (which is also a fantastic source for molecular biology protocols and synthetic biology labs) hosts links to a bunch of open online courses in basic cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics, and a whole page devoted to open online synthetic biology courses.
- EdX has a series of excellent open courses on molecular bio, computational/quantitative bio, synbio, and biological manufacturing.
3. There are a bunch of excellent review articles for the field that link out to lots of seminal synbio papers. Here are some of them:
- Foundations for engineering biology. (2005)
- Build life to understand it. (2010)
- Synthetic biology: applications come of age. (2010)
- A brief history of synthetic biology. (2014)
- Integrating biological redesign: where synthetic biology came from and where it needs to go. (2014)
- The new frontier of genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9. (2014)
4. This special issue of Nature on systems and synthetic biology, while ~5 years old, is filled with important papers and perspectives, both contemporary with its publishing (2010) and reviewing the highlights of the field from 2000-2010. I particularly recommend the News and Views articles in it for a quick summary of where the field has gone and is going.
5. There are several labs whose research I recommend searching for/keeping abreast of, as they are important for various areas of synthetic biology:
- Michael Elowitz, Caltech
- Jim Collins, MIT
- Christopher Voigt, MIT
- Drew Endy, Stanford
- Pam Silver, Harvard
- David Baker, UW Seattle
- George Church, Harvard
- Christina Smolke, Stanford
- Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley
- Jennifer Doudna, UC Berkeley
- Feng Zhang, MIT
- John Dueber, UC Berkeley
- Martin Fussenegger, ETH Zurich
- Tom Ellis, Imperial College London
- Ron Weiss, MIT
Synthetic Biology professors at Northwestern:
- Mike Jewett
- Josh Leonard
- Keith Tyo
- Neda Bagheri
- Milan Mrksich
- Danielle Tullman-Ercek (starting 07/2016)
6. If you’re interested in learning about the policy/industry/economic aspects of synthetic biology, I recommend Rob Carlson’s book Biology is Technology, a lot of which is available online through that link for free. Carlson is generally a good source of realistic predictions about the field’s future. I also recommend his blog, Synthesis.
7. Speaking of blogs, here are a few other blogs/news sources I’ve found that regularly feature news/commentary about synthetic biology:
- PLOS SynBio (a blog completely devoted to synthetic biology/the synbio community)
- Genome Web (mostly genomics, but lots of stuff on the synthetic biology industry)
- Holman’s Biotech IP Blog (all about biotech and the law; had an excellent series recently on why DNA should be protected by copyright, not patents)
- Trade Secrets (Nature’s biotech blog)
- GetSynBio (good source for companies that provide synthetic biology services)
8. Carlson’s not the only person writing policy pieces on the field. Synberc (the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, one of the first/biggest synbio organizations) maintains a list of white papers which discuss and argue about how the research, commercialization and regulation of synthetic biology should proceed. They make for very interesting reading.
9. Here are a few journals that regularly publish synthetic biology research:
- Nature Biotechnology
- ACS Synthetic Biology
- Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
- Systems and Synthetic Biology
- Metabolic Engineering (focused on one particular sub/twin field, obviously)
10. Finally, to keep up with current developments in synthetic biology, I recommend setting an auto-search on PubMed and Google News for synthetic biology. I wrote an article recently about how to do this. I actually think this is a more efficient way to find new research/developments in synthetic biology than reading particular journals.
What did I miss?
I’m planning to update/revise this post as new and better resources come to my attention. If you think I left something obvious off, let me know in the comments!