SURF 2011: Synthetic biology in a cell-free expression system

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2011 SURF project description

  • Mentor: Richard Murray
  • Co-mentor: Jongmin Kim

Synthetic biology aims to understand design principles of natural circuits and to achieve novel functions using tools of engineering disciplines. The classic achievements are the construction of a synthetic oscillator and a toggle switch in E. coli. The design of synthetic circuits in bacteria is still a pervasive activity in the field of synthetic biology. An indispensible part of synthetic biology is the “orthogonality” of elements--the question of whether one can design functions that have minimal interaction with existing system elements. The complex interaction with cellular environment is not present in cell-free expression systems such that the synthetic circuit designs can be readily tested and debugged.

The project will focus on demonstrating cell-free expression systems as a valuable training ground for synthetic biology. Using the cell-free transcription/translation system as a platform, in principle, any circuits implemented in cells can also be implemented in cell-free expression systems, given additional circuit components. A particularly interesting example is the gene expression control by small regulatory RNAs in bacteria that make use of a few proteins (e.g. Hfq protein) in addition to the basic transcription/translation machinery.

Students interested in this project should have some experience in basic laboratory techniques at the level of Bi 1x, Bi 10 or ChE 130.