What is Synthetic Biology?
Synthetic Biology is a young field of research at the interface between biology and engineering. Its goal is to design and build biological systems with new functions to expand our knowledge and to produce useful products. This includes the construction of biological parts (Biobricks), biological devices, and the de novo design of already existing, natural systems (minimal cell).
The potential of Synthetic Biology
Synthetic Biology is still in its infancy but the potential is massive: It allows the construction of synthetic biosensors to detect hazardous materials; it equips natural organisms with new properties, enabling them to produce value chemicals like pharmaceuticals (e.g. Artemisinin), renewable biofuels, or even degradable bioplastic; it facilitates the reduction of naturally occuring cells and the design of life from scratch (termed minimal cell) addressing the question „What is life?“, but also aiming at increased control and biosecurity.
The German Association for Synthetic Biology‘s mission is to foster science, inform the public, and to push for a responsible, fact-based use of modern (bio-) technologies.
Synthetic Biology in Germany
Synthetic Biology in Germany covers a broad range of topics, although not many labs or institutes are specifically dedicated to it. Many researchers would not consider themselves first and foremost SynBiologists, but maybe rather molecular biotechnologists, computational biologists or metabolic engineers. Nevertheless, those scientists apply engineering principles to biological questions and thus, expand the scope and the possibilities of their research field by Synthetic Biology concepts and methods.
Also many junior scientists take part in the development of Synthetic Biology in Germany, e.g. at the international Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM), the biggest student competition in the field, with a couple of thousand participants each year. In the past couple of years, teams from Germany were the most successful in iGEM, based on wins and participation in the final - well ahead of the USA and the UK.
The German Association for Synthetic Biology aims to provide a platform for those researchers to interact, build a community, help each other, and formulate common goals.