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We Engineer Biology in Light of Evolution

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We are a Synthetic Biology research group dedicated to exploiting evolution for better engineering biology.


What is Synthetic Biology? The definition can vary. We believe the concept reflects the desire of mankind to rationally engineer biology. Synthetic biologists build artificial biological systems based on natural rules. As Feynman famously puts it, "What I cannot create I don't understand". If we understand the underlying mechanisms, a functional system can be rationally built. Yet, biological systems can be far more complex than we can understand. For example, we still lack a full knowledge to build a functional protein from scratch, let alone a genome or a cell. To circumvent such complexity, we turn to evolution as a semi-rational method for generating novel functions.

Natural evolution is the sole process that generated the biodiversity on our planet Earth. This process took billions of years and was impacted by uncontrolled environmental events. Rational or not, our ancestors adopted the same rules to breed improved crops and animals. As synthetic biologists we put rational layers to better steer and speed up the process. The so-called Directed Evolution optimizes proteins and cells toward desired functions in a laboratory time scale. At the core of directed evolution are technologies enabling high-throughput gene/genome editing and functional selection/screening. One goal of our group is to develop such editing technologies and selection/screening schemes for eukaryotic cell engineering, with applications in biomanufacturing and medicine.

Latest Publications

Broadening the targetable space: engineering and discovery of PAM-flexible Cas proteins

The application of CRISPR-Cas systems has been hindered by their requirement for long protospacer-adjacent motifs (PAMs). Recent engineering and discovery of PAM-flexible Cas proteins have substantially broadened the targetable DNA sequence space, thereby facilitating genome editing and improving derivative technologies such as gene regulation, seamless cloning, and large-scale genetic screens.

Pipetting Samples
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