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CRISPR Meets Synthetic Biology: A Conversation with MIT’s Christopher Voigt

Posted by Kendall Morgan on Apr 22, 2015 10:06:00 AM

As Christopher Voigt explains it, his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been “working on new experimental and theoretical methods to push the scale of genetic engineering, with the ultimate objective of genome design.” It’s genetic engineering on a genomic scale, with the expectation for major advances in agriculture, materials, chemicals, and medicine.

As they’ve gone along, Voigt’s group has also been assembling the toolbox needed for anyone to begin considering genetic engineering projects in a very big way. In one of his latest papers, published in Molecular Systems Biology in November, Voigt and Alex Nielsen describe what’s possible when multi-input CRISPR/Cas genetic circuits are linked to the regulatory networks within E. coli host cells.

We talked with Voigt about this collision that’s taking place between CRISPR technology and synthetic biology, the tools he’s making available through Addgene, and where all of it is likely to lead us in the future. 

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Topics: Genome Engineering, Investigator Feature, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

Rewiring Metabolic Circuitry with CRISPR RNA Scaffolds [Video]

Posted by Guest Blogger on Apr 7, 2015 12:21:00 PM

This post was contributed by Adam Chin-Fatt, a Ph.D. student at the University of Western Ontario. Adam summarizes Zalatan JG, et al.'s recent paper, "Engineering Complex Synthetic Transcriptional Programs with CRISPR RNA Scaffolds." Adam has also created a video to help scientists visualize the concepts discussed in the paper.

The transcriptional control of multiple loci is deftly coordinated by the eukaryotic cell for the execution of many complex cellular behaviors, such as differentiation or metabolism. Our attempts to manipulate these cellular behaviors often fall short with the generation of various flux imbalances. The conventional approach has typically been to either systematically delete/overexpress endogenous genes or to introduce heterologous genes, but the trend of research has shifted in recent years toward tinkering with regulatory networks and multiplex gene control. However, these approaches are often met with the challenges of regulatory bottlenecks and their scope is limited by the lack of well characterized inducible promoters. Far removed from the bio-industry’s vision of ‘biofactories’, most successes in metabolic engineering have been limited to the overexpression of various metabolites in Escherichia coli or Saccharomyces cerevisiae with few techniques that are easily transferrable across host species or metabolic pathways. A new study takes us one step closer to the vision of metabolic biofactories by demonstrating the use of CRISPR-based RNA scaffolds to mimic natural transcriptional programs on multiple genes.

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Topics: Plasmid Technology, Genome Engineering, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

Trends in CRISPR and SynBio Technologies [Slideshare]

Posted by Joanne Kamens on Feb 4, 2015 10:58:00 AM

Addgenie Eric Perkins attended the recent Keystone Meeting "Precision Genome Engineering and Synthetic Biology". His reflections on the program are here. This was a great opportunity for Addgene to present our own data on plasmid deposits and distirbution for these fast moving fields. 

Addgene is a global nonprofit plasmid repository. Over 2,000 labs have deposited plasmids to Addgene and we distribute over 130,000 plasmids in 2014. Thus, we are in a unique position to observe and quantify how new technologies are being disseminated through the scientific community.

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Topics: Hot Plasmids, Genome Engineering, Inside Addgene, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

Addgene @ Keystone: Thoughts on Precision Genome Engineering and Synbio

Posted by Eric J. Perkins on Jan 15, 2015 8:50:00 AM

It's been about 14 years since I last attended a Keystone Meeting – far too long. Holding these meetings in relatively isolated resorts creates a sense of comradery with fellow attendees from the moment you arrive. Getting off the plane in Bozeman Sunday night, it was easy to spot meeting participants. They were the ones holding poster tubes (or as our baffled flight attendant called them, "long, skinny things") and generally exuding a very-tired-but-very-excited attitude. Riding up to the resort in the shuttle, our driver regaled us with tales of back country skiing, fly fishing, and local grizzly bear attacks. He described one such recent attack as "hilarious". Welcome to Montana!

Though sadly I will not be attending the entire meeting, Monday's talks alone were worth the trip. Dr. Dana Carroll's excellent keynote address was the first of 19 talks given over the course of the day. His talk, which focused on the history of genome engineering from ZFNs through TALENs and CRISPR-Cas nucleases, provided important context for the rest of the day. He was followed by three of the biggest names in the CRISPR-Cas9 field – Jennifer Doudna, Feng Zhang, and Keith Joung. All Addgene depositors! Addgene was mentioned specifically in Dr. Zhang's introduction. His willingness to share reagents so freely with the academic community has clearly made a huge impact on this field.

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Topics: Genome Engineering, Scientific Sharing, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

3 Challenges in Plant Synthetic Biology

Posted by Guest Blogger on Jul 22, 2014 1:46:10 PM

This post was contributed by Nikolai Braun and Keira Havens, co-founders of Revolution Bioengineering. Read their previous blog post about how they started their company here.

The first transgenic plant was engineered over 30 years ago, but plant synthetic biology is still in its infancy. A long timeline from transformation to testing and a lack of well-characterized genetic tools make it challenging to engineer a specific function in these multicellular organisms. However, the rewards are great if you take the plunge – plants are the foundation of life on earth, and opportunities abound to build better fuels, feeds, foods, and fibers. And because working with plants can be challenging, there are a lot of unexplored areas in plant biotechnology that are ripe with opportunity. We’ve decided to jump into one of those unexplored areas with our color-changing flower, but to do that we’ve had to navigate the challenges involved in plant synthetic biology.

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Topics: Synthetic Biology, Plant Biology, Plasmid Kits

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