Synthetic Biology Animation

This animation addresses the goals of Synthetic Biology and technologies applied, as well as debates and its potential for Flavonoids production.

After watching the animation you may find you have some more questions, what is below can help you to further understand what Synthetic biology means for the production of flavonoids.

What is the difference between genetic evolution, genetic modification, genetic engineering, genome editing and Synthetic Biology?
Evolution refers to the change of heritable characteristics over generations as a result of natural selection by survival of the fittest. Genetic modification is commonly related to more active and intentional processes such as genetic engineering, the direct manipulation of genomes in biotechnologies.  Some of the genetic engineering results might also be achieved through conventional breeding. Genome editing refers to techniques within genetic engineering that allow the insertion or deletion of genes at predetermined positions within DNA molecules. Synthetic biology applies genome editing techniques to build modular synthetic systems of genes that can be recombined to generate desired functions within living organisms.

Can natural organisms actively change their own and foreign genes?
Active genetic modification strategies have been developed by a wide range of microorganisms to complement their dominant reproduction strategy of cloning. Cloning happens through cell division resulting in identical organisms. It is a material- and energy-saving strategy that enables rapid multiplication when environmental conditions are favourable. To ensure genetic adaptivity strategies have emerged that are independent from the process of reproduction. Bacteria can take in DNA fragments from their environment that stem from dead organisms, or they can selectively transfer some of their own beneficial DNA sequences to other bacteria to enhance their capabilities, such as resistance to antibiotics.

What is the CRISPR system?
CRISPR is a natural defence strategy of many bacterial species against viral attacks. Bacteria store genetic copies of viral DNA within their own DNA to be able to distinguish between beneficial and harmful DNA. When recognizing invading viral DNA, they make it ineffective by cutting it up. The natural bacterial strategy CRISPR-CAS9 involves a guiding tool to identifying where to cut the invading DNA and a scissor tool to perform the cut.

Who has discovered the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 for genetic engineering?
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna discovered the potentials of the natural bacterial  defence strategy CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing. They developed a simple and highly precise method that can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined position. Since their first publication on CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012 their method has contributed to multiple advancements in life sciences. They have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020.

What are promising potentials of synthetic biology in the field of medical applications?
Completely new medical strategies are expected with the potential of synthetic biology. The envisioned applications comprise the treatment of inherited diseases, prevention and treatment of cancer, engineered tissues, new diagnostic methods, engineered therapeutic microbes, and many others.

What are promising potentials of synthetic biology regarding climate change combat?
The effects of climate change may impact the health of many living organisms. Unusual changes in the environment cause imbalances that go hand in hand with weaker immune systems, resulting in higher susceptibility for diseases. To ensure food security worldwide new types of crops are being researched that shall be more resistant to drought, pests and moulds.

What are debates on genetic modifications in Europe about?
In the European Union, the commercial application of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is highly regulated, which is stricter than in many other parts of the World. Nonetheless, research in the field of genetic modification is advancing worldwide, with envisioned applications for many fields. Medical applications appear to gain higher approval than agricultural applications. Whilst genetic engineering is considered too high a risk by opponents, proponents plead for easing GMOs regulations and point out the economic and social costs of an anti-GMO stance.

What are beneficial examples of genetic engineering?
Selective breeding, performed over thousands of years worldwide, has increased productivity of farm animals and plants. The high productivity is frequently accompanied by a reduction in robustness, resulting in the use of large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. Genetic modification of maize has restored an original natural resistance to a fatal pest by reinserting the resistance genes lost along with traditional breeding.

Why is standardisation important in synthetic biology?
Standardisation is generally intended to facilitate communication and production. Synthetic biology intends to work with standardised genetic parts and clusters of DNA that enable specific functions when inserted in microorganisms or cells. This design and engineering-based approach of synthetic biology allows interchangeability and modularity to speed up and reduce the costs of DNA synthesis.