SynBio Newsreel, August

We have more of a newsletter than a newsreel this month, since there’s no summary video. However, that was because we devoted our entire monthly meeting to a thought-provoking critique and discussion of the Human Genome Project-Write, led by Professor Laurie Zoloth. With that said, enjoy the newsreeletter!

Synbio community news:

Industry news:

Books and Longreads

  • I just discovered BioCoder, a quarterly newsletter about synthetic biology from technology media company O’Reilly Media, and I’m really enjoying it.
  • Carl Zimmer gets his genome sequenced and analyzed by some of the best researchers in the field. A Game of Genomes chronicles his adventure. A must-read.
  • Ed Yong’s fantastic book about the microbes that precede, surround, live on, and comprise us, I Contain Multitudes, came out. I cannot recommend enough that you get your hands (or ears, it’s on Audible!) on this book.

Now, onto the research papers!

Protein engineering:

Genetic circuits:

CRISPR/Gene Editing:

Metabolic Engineering

Building biology to understand it

SynBio Newsreel, July

There was a lot of news this month. Enjoy!

Northwestern News:

  • The Communicating Science Convention (ComSciCon) in Chicago is coming up! If you’re in Chicago on Saturday August 6, I highly recommend you attend the keynote, where Emily Graslie will talk about how she and her team at the Field Museum engage with the public about science online.

Protein engineering:

Genetic circuits:

CRISPR/Gene Editing:


  • BioPartsDB: software that helps you design and build your own large DNA sequences from overlapping oligos.
  • ATLAS of Biochemistry: an online map of all known and predicted metabolites, and all known and predicted enzymatic pathways to produce them.

Building biology to understand it

Industry news:

Synbio community news:

Cool iGEM projects

April Newsreel (a lot late)

As long as I’m posting the May links, the April links should go up too. Enjoy!


Research articles:

  1. Synthetic mammalian gene circuits
  2. Expanding DNA Polymerase function
  3. Synthetic biochemistry module produces valuable chemicals from glucose
  4. Programming IPSC differentiation with a genetic circuit
  5. Cellular device for liver protection
  6. Rapid and efficient incorporation of long DNA fragments into E. coli genomes
  7. A step towards rational dynamic control of gene expression
  8. Research Highlight: A minimal synthetic cell.
  9. Research highlight: Automated genetic circuit design.

Non-research stuff

  1. ComSciCon is awesome! Chicago meeting’s in August, come to the keynote.
  2. The Foundry (DNA factory) Opens in the UK
  3. Perspective article on biosafety in DIY bio communities
  4. Oxford Nanopore responds to Illumina lawsuit
  5. Tech Museum Synthetic Biology Exhibit
  6. GM Mushroom escapes US Regulations
  7. Sean Parker starts $250 million cancer immunotherapy institute

May Newsreel (a little late)

Here are all the links from the May meeting’s newsreel. Enjoy!


Non-research articles:

1. Gen9 and Arzeda sign DNA synthesis deal. In related news, Twist Bioscience partners with Microsoft on DNA data storage. But how big is the synthetic DNA market? Rob Carlson’s perspective.

2. Synthetic biology tackles the antivenin shortage.

3. DIY bio lab in Brooklyn gets a profile in The Guardian.

Research articles:

4. Modeling competition between genes for expression machinery.

5. De novo design of protein structures which associate via hydrogen bond networks (as opposed to hydrophobic effects).

6. DNA nanostructures encoded and self-assembled in living bacteria.

7. Computationally designed protein enables biomineralization of cadmium chloride nanocrystal.

8. Moss assembles DNA in vivo (like yeast!).

9. Targeted isolation and cloning of 100 kb microbe genome fragments through Cas9-assisted technique.

10. DNA-guided genome editing with Natronobacter gregoryi Argonaute (NgAgo)—comparable in vitro editing to Cas9, but uses guide DNA rather than RNA, and doesn’t require a PAM sequence!

Human Genome Project: Write

On May 10th, a group of scientists led by George Church met in a closed-door, invitation only session to discuss the possibility of synthesizing the human genome. The intent was to publish a proposal outlining the need for human genome synthesis. That perspective piece was recently published in Science, and now has its own website. Among the goals and applications for human genome synthesis are:


  • To drive demand for large-scale DNA synthesis, and thus lower costs
  • To understand basic biology by re-creating noncoding DNA regions
  • To construct specific genotypes to study disease
  • To construct artificial chromosomes with all-included developmental pathways (minimal human cells, anyone?)
  • For gene therapy applications: improve safety by removing viral and cancer susceptibility, etc.
  • To recoding human cells for safety and biocontainment in manufacturing
  • To create a homozygous “pan-human” reference genome for drug testing

Drew Endy was invited but chose not to attend, instead exposing the meeting to the public and co-authoring an opinion piece on the ethics of human genome synthesis with our own Laurie Zoloth. Concerns raised in their piece include:

  • The secrecy and lack of public dialog severely damage public trust
  • The individuals involved have a financial conflict of interest
  • A non-human model organism genome synthesis project can provide the same demand to fuel low-cost DNA synthesis
  • No ethical analysis has been undertaken
  • A large potential for unintended consequences, especially on funding for the entire field of synthetic biology

What do you think? Join the discussion below!

GeneMods Connect! A networking event

We’re excited to announce our first networking event, GeneMods Connect! This event is intended as a time to socialize with other members of the GeneMods community, share about your research interests, and find potential connections or collaborations. RSVP soon using the form below. Space is limited to 30 participants.


Thursday, May 12        5-7pm        Pancoe Cafe

Light dinner provided      Alcoholic beverages provided


Synthetic Biology Sources: Where to Start

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:

2. For more in-depth background training in cell/molecular biology:

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:

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:

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:

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!