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Mr Matthieu Bultelle, Professor Paul Freemont, Ms Kirsten Jensen, Professor Richard Kitney, Dr Chueh Loo Poh, Mr Alex Petrice and Mr Vincent Rouilly, Imperial College London

Applying an engineering approach to building biological systems

Researchers at Imperial College London are modifying pieces of translatable DNA to make living devices that do not exist in the natural world.

DNA instructs cells how to behave. Scientists are discovering new ways to change the DNA to build engineering devices and systems. A catalogue of different DNA-encoded instructions is continually being updated that increases the opportunity for complex designs. The catalogue is made up of ‘BioBricks’ or small strands of DNA that contains particular instructions. By putting together different ‘BioBricks’, scientists can create new devices and may in the future be able to build living machines.

“Synthetic biology is a new and very exciting field. It has an incredible amount of potential to change our daily lives. Cars, computers, building materials, medicines – so many things could be improved by modifying and recombining DNA,” says Professor Richard Kitney from Imperial College London.

Synthetic biology could also help with the environment. By creating materials that are very strong and light, it would allow the production of aircraft and cars that were much lighter and therefore would use far less fuel. It could also allow for the production of renewable energy sources.

Scientists are continually updating the Registry of Standard Biological Parts to continue to expand what synthetic biology can produce.