Genome architecture – Designing a synthetic genome

Project

Genome architecture – Designing a synthetic genome

Let there be life! The genome of the first truly synthetic cell is expected to be a streamlined version of a mix of natural known genomes. The exact structure and composition of such synthetic genome, however, is still an open question.

Background

Synthetic biology merges biology and engineering: it studies existing biological systems and characterizes its components individually in order to create novel biological circuits and even new forms of life. Along these lines, microorganisms can be engineered to perform particular functions and potentially help us solve modern problems at will.

How did life start? One of the biggest unanswered questions to date is how simple cells first arose, how they gave rise to the start of what we call life today. Top-down synthetic biology strips down existing biological systems until they become as minimized as possible, which is straight-forward but presents limitations for the understanding of fundamental molecular regulation. On the other hand, bottom-up synthetic biology involves creating a de novo protocell, able to reproduce and evolve, entirely from non-living components. The creation of a synthetic protocell not only will generate crucial knowledge about the beginning of life: minimal, synthetic cells are also expected to revolutionize several biotechnological fields, such as biorefineries and smart drug engineering.

Studying potential genomic structures and compositions is a challenge that the community needs to overcome before successfully creating synthetic life. Along the way, several valuable insights will be generated about how a given genomic architecture influences fitness and cellular behaviour in certain contexts. Such knowledge will be key to understand how to design synthetic cells to perform particular functions in a given context.

Techniques

During a BSc or MSc thesis, students will work with state-of-the-art techniques for molecular and synthetic biology in a highly stimulating environment. The range of possibilities includes (but is not limited to):

  • Extensive molecular cloning techniques
  • Heterologous protein expression and characterization
  • CRISPR-Cas technology
  • Genome engineering
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Flow cytometry analysis

Contact

Thesis projects are available for enthusiastic BSc/MSc students interested in synthetic biology, biotechnology, molecular genetics, biochemistry and/or molecular microbiology. For more information, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at max.fingerbou@wur.nl.