Syn Bio Newsreel, August 2017 (kinda late)

Blogs and Community News

  • There was understandably a flurry of blog posts after the big CRISPR embryo editing news in July. Here is a very good one from James Kath, formerly of the Jewett lab, about how editing embryos with CRISPR has no real advantage over pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.
  • You may have seen this New York Times quiz, “Can Gene Editing Really Do That?” This is a great one to share with friends and family.
  • Contribute to the 10K genes project! Drew Endy and the BioBricks Foundation are partnering with Twist Biosciences to make 10,000 crowd-sourced genes publicly available and free. You can find out more information and suggest genes to order on their Reddit page.


  • Apparently, researchers at the University of Washington made a computer virus out of DNA that launched when the DNA was sequenced. Interesting security implications…

Industry and Funding

  • Synthetic Genomics made a “digital-to-biological converter”…a kind of sequence to DNA to protein fax machine. This was the first time this has been done automatically only with computers and no humans. It has fairly typical applications like printing on-demand personalized medicines, but Craig Venter thinks it could be used to transmit biological information between planets!
  • After 25 years, AquaBounty Technologies has finally started to sell its genetically-modified salmon in Canada. It grows twice as fast as regular salmon, and is the first genetically-modified animal to be sold on the open market for food consumption. (It was the first animal to be approved for consumption back in 2015.)
  • More food news–Impossible Foods, the meat substitute syn bio company, is running into trouble getting soy leghemoglobin, the ingredient that allegedly makes their burgers taste like meat, approved by the FDA.

Now, on to the research papers!

Cell-Free SynBio

  • Jeff Hasty’s lab has a new system for rapid preparation of cell-free lysates from various bacteria.
  •  Tom Ellis’s lab developed a cell-free assay and computational model to predict the growth burden on E. coli cells for a variety of different proteins.

CRISPR and Gene Editing

  • Chunyu Han and colleagues officially retracted their paper in Nature Biotechnology that claimed to show NgAgo can be used as a gene-editing tool, because no one can replicate these findings. Here is Nature’s justification.
  • What is this? A CRISPR for ants?!  Two research teams independently edited two different ant species for the first time and knocked out their ability to smell pheromones,  completely changing their behavior to be less hive-mind and more individualistic.

Genetic Circuits

  • A group of researchers including Pam Silver and James Collins created a complex genetic logic circuit using ribocomputing devices.
  • The Golden lab at the University of California San Diego developed some cool synthetic NOT gate circuits in cyanobacteria. Good to have some more tools for cyanobacterial engineering.

Therapeutic Syn Bio

  • (Also CRISPR) Researchers inactivated all of the porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs (oof, bad acronym), in a pig cell line toward the eventual goal of preventing transmission of these retroviruses during xenotransplantation of pig organs into humans.