This book began with a relatively modest mission, namely to support the growing BioBuilder community, the teachers and students around the country and the world who are learning to engineer biology. BioBuilding is a challenging endeavor, and we heard over and over that a book like this would help. So here it is. We hope it’s helpful. We hope you like it.
This book is written for a non-scientist, non-engineer reader. Importantly, though, the questions that motivate the content are the very hard questions that synthetic biologists wrestle with daily. How can cells be engineered in a rational way? Is it possible to ensure reliable behaviors? What can we learn as we approach life science with an engineer’s toolkit?
hoping a wide range of readers will find this book useful. Our writing began with teachers in mind, since these are the individuals we’ve come to know through the BioBuilder program. They have been enthusiastically bringing this content into their biology and biotechnology classrooms around the country and throughout the world. Early feedback we got on the book made us realize that teachers wanted to share the book directly with their students, and so the teacher’s manual we’d originally envisioned soon morphed into a resource that students and teachers can use together.
the book now meets the needs of many curious readers and all kinds of learners. Our intended audience includes high school and college instructors, students active in biodesign clubs, adults engaged in community laboratories, and artists working in design studios. We hope there is something in this book for everyone who wants to know more about the theoretical and practical aspects of synthetic biology.
The ideas presented here and the labs that spring from them are based on current research in the field. The authenticity sparks student interest, and we’ve seen how it can excite and empower learners at all levels. But it’s hard to be working on the edge of what’s known, so we wrote this book to support the teachers and students who want to use unknowns as their point of departure for learning.
With its mixture of foundational content, lab investigations, and biodesign activities, this book is our best effort to engender curiosity and enthusiasm for the field.
The goal of synthetic biology is to engineer robust, synthetic, living systems in scalable and reliable ways. Some who are working in the field are applying synthetic biology to address our planet’s need for sustainable food and fuel production. Others are developing biotechnologies such as medical diagnostics or treatments. A smaller but vital subset of people view synthetic biology as a design challenge that they can apply to art, architecture or community innovations. No matter what the application space, though, you’ll see we’ve got a lot to learn and long way to go before the work is easy to do.
Even in its early days, synthetic biology has a lot to teach us. New scientific under‐ standing, improved engineering approaches and novel technologies are all “naturally” derived from this “synthetic” approach. Building biology tests our current under‐ standing of the world and so serves as a powerful force to discover new science. It also motivates the development of new tools and processes that speed the engineer’s design/build/test cycle. As a genuinely interdisciplinary endeavor, the field brings coherence to STEM education in a way that seems unique to us. So while the field may be immature, we think it is already an outstanding approach to teaching and learning. Because it is based on synthetic biology’s real unsolved questions, BioBuilder’s curriculum applies knowledge, and so moves classroom and laboratory education away from rote memorization and cookbook technical steps. It features synthetic biology as a series of investigations that integrate scientific understanding with engineering approaches to develop solutions that meet real-world challenges.