Machine learning takes on synthetic biology: algorithms can bioengineer cells for you


Berkeley Lab scientists Tijana Radivojevic (left) and Hector Garcia Martin working on mechanistic and statistical modeling, data visualizations, and metabolic maps at the Agile BioFoundry last year.

 Machine learning takes on synthetic biology: algorithms can bioengineer cells for you.

If you’ve eaten vegan burgers that taste like meat or used synthetic collagen in your beauty routine—both products that are “grown” in the lab—then you’ve benefited from synthetic biology. It’s a field rife with potential, as it allows scientists to design biological systems to specification, such as engineering a microbe to produce a cancer-fighting agent. Yet conventional methods of bioengineering are slow and laborious, with trial and error being the main approach.

Now scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a new tool that adapts machine learning algorithms to the needs of synthetic biology to guide development systematically. The innovation means scientists will not have to spend years developing a meticulous understanding of each part of a cell and what it does in order to manipulate it; instead, with a limited set of training data, the algorithms are able to predict how changes in a cell’s DNA or biochemistry will affect its behavior, then make recommendations for the next engineering cycle along with probabilistic predictions for attaining the desired goal.

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5 incredible synthetic biology holy grails that could change the world


Investors are still waiting for next-generation biotech to deliver on its enormous promise and potential, but just one of these Holy Grails would make the wait worth it.

 Biotechnology has come a long way since 1978, when Herbert Boyer successfully demonstrated that human insulin could be produced from bacteria engineered with recombinant DNA. The breakthrough technology pushed a little-known company called Genentech into the spotlight and forever changed the world. Genentech was acquired by Roche for $46.8 billion in 2009. The American bioeconomy — biotech crops, biochemicals, and biologic drugs — generated an estimated $324 billion of gross domestic product in 2012. And millions of people worldwide today rely on insulin and other biologic drugs daily.

You could argue that recombinant DNA was the first Holy Grail technology delivered by the field. Several more have followed. In fact, we’ve recently been treated to the development and ongoing commercialization of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR — a true game-changer for the biotech ecosystem. Headache-inducing legal entanglements aside, CRISPR promises to help synthetic biology deliver on its enormous potential and could even be an integral tool needed to produce several other world-changing Holy Grails. Some are closer to reality than investors may think.

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Humans Can Now “Print” Genetic Code and Engineer Life

We have learned how to manipulate the code of life. Why this hasn’t received more attention is beyond me.

Synthetic Biology is a multidisciplinary field that often defies definition. Yet despite its complexity, it is a remarkably easy field to apply once you’ve learned the science behind it. From a computer, you can input your desired genetic sequence, print it out, glue it together, put it into a cell and then watch whatever you have created sprout.

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An open source future for synthetic biology


Synthetic biology is an emerging area that threatens to become as controversial as GMOs.

It’s indisputable that genetically modified organism (GMO) food products from corporations like Monsanto are suspected to endanger health. But on the other hand, an individual’s right to genetically modify and even synthesize entire organisms as part of his dietary or medical regimen could someday be a human right.



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Top 5 technologies that are shaping the future of design


The Sproutling

Wearables for babies, theatrical robots and 3D bio printers are some of the types of technologies that might be “out there,” but they show off key enabling technologies that are pushing the future of design forward.  These types of technologies were highlighted at Bloomberg Business Week’s Design Conference in San Francisco this week.



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Synthetic biology holds global promise and perils

Synthetic biology is about making DNA from scratch.

What if you could turn a bread machine into your personal pharmacy? Or fill your gas tank with fuel made from grass clippings? Or light your home with glowing houseplants? While radical in concept, these ideas are startlingly practical and already in the works.



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Top 11 emerging scientific fields

 HD 189733b, an exoplanet whose atmosphere is being blown off by its sun’s solar flares, was discovered by the emerging field of exo-meteorology.

Science is advancing, and as it does, fields like biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy are becoming increasingly specialized and interdisciplinary, leading to entirely new avenues of inquiry.  Here re 11 emerging scientific fields you should know about.


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