The field of synthetic biology has taken great strides in increasing the predictable control of gene expression in several well-studied model organisms including Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Saccharamyces cerevisiae (yeast). To access biological capabilities from further branches of the tree of life, it is important to expand our set of tools for engineering microorganisms from different kingdoms. We are developing new techniques and genetic tools to enable rapid engineering of diverse strains with immediate biotechnological applications in mind.
Though recombinant DNA technologies have been in use for nearly half of a century, nearly all of the biotechnological applications are still at the level of single genes. We are working on new strategies to optimize the genetics of complex behaviors requiring the coordinated expression of multiple genes, including the biosynthesis of natural products. Guiding principles for directing the forward engineering of complex systems is of growing importance as the cost of synthetic DNA continues to drop, allowing researchers to 'build to understand'.
Through billions of years of natural evolution, Nature has found intricate and streamlined solutions to problems such as environmental signal integration, energy metabolism, and cellular differentiation. However, any genetic system likely constitutes one of many possible solutions to a given problem, with myriad others left unexplored. The ultimate demonstration of our ability to understand biological systems is to redesign them from scratch in non-natural architectures that achieve the same or improved performance compared to the natural system.