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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
CNLS Conference Room (TA-3, Bldg 1690)

Colloquium

Synthetic Biology: From Protein Design to Artificial Genomes

Michael Hecht
Princeton University

A central goal of synthetic biology is to enable the growth of living organisms using molecular parts that are not derived from nature, but designed and synthesized in the laboratory. Until now, however, advances in synthetic biology have relied primarily on collections of parts – genes, proteins, and regulatory elements – derived from sequences that already exist in nature. Must the toolkit of life be so restricted? Or might we find functional molecular parts among sequences designed ‘from scratch’ in the laboratory? To address these questions, we designed and constructed a library comprising a million artificial proteins – a model ‘proteome.’ This library was encoded by a collection of synthetic genes – an artificial ‘genome’. We expressed these sequences in E. coli and found that many of the designed proteins were catalytically active, and provided essential biochemical functions that enable the growth of living cells. Thus, novel sequences, which never before existed on earth, can provide activities that sustain life. This initial foray into artificial genomics suggests that (i) the toolkit for biology need not be limited to sequences that already exist in nature; and (ii) the construction of entirely artificial genomes capable of sustaining life may soon be within reach.

Host: Giovanni Bellesia, T-6 and CNLS