Why Synthetic Biology?
The field of synthetic biology aims at making biology easy to engineer. Current procedures to engineer living organisms require long and costly efforts, and are closer to a research than an engineering process. To make biology easy to engineer, we try to take lessons from mature engineering disciplines, mostly civil and electronic engineering. Standardization of biological components and the use of different levels of abstraction are some of the keystones of this process.
Why engineering biological memory devices?
On an experimental point of view, we are working to create biological tools facilitating the instrumentation of biological systems. Complex information processing in electronics relies on memory storage devices. However, such versatile, scalable memory storage devices are not currently available for biological systems, limiting our ability to implement complex, reliable behavior in living organisms.
Because biological systems store information in the genome with remarkable fidelity over many generations, DNA is a favorable substrate for information storage. To implement genetically encoded memory, I have designed DNA sequences that can adopt two different orientations, and will use enzymes called recombinases to flip these target sequences in one direction or another. Depending on its orientation, these sequences will control the expression of different sets of genes, enabling the storage of two states, or one bit of information, by analogy to digital memory. These DNA memory switches will provide the basic building blocks from which to engineer reliable, scalable memory devices enabling the implementation of complex behavior in living organisms.