Microorganisms have been used for decades in the production of fermented food and chemicals and as sources of antibiotics and enzymes. Microbial hosts are versatile platforms to produce valuable products from inexpensive renewable raw materials. These natural or synthetic products have numerous applications in the chemical, pharmaceutical, food and agriculture industries. Approval of the first clinical use of recombinant human insulin by the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1980’s inaugurated the production of recombinant pharmaceuticals for human use of which, by 2009, 48% were produced in microbial cells. Besides the clear economic impetus for the production of pharmaceuticals in microorganisms, pressing environment and energy security concerns have also driven an increasing interest in their use in the production of bio-derived fuel alternatives. Bio-manufacturing also present an advantage in the production of fine chemicals, such as amino acids, organic acids, flavors, fragrances and nutraceuticals, some of which are otherwise too complicated to be produced economically in other systems.

In SynCTI, our research aims to exploit recent advances in synthetic biology and utilize newly available tools in genetic, protein and metabolic engineering to construct and incorporate new biosynthetic or artificial metabolic pathways into microbes for the production of compounds with strong industrial relevance and potential. To further enhance productivity and yield of the microbial cell factories, we develop high throughput screening platforms that are used in combination with synthetic DNA libraries and directed evolution techniques to screen for robust engineered microbes that meet their intended purposes.


Early efforts in synthetic biology focused primarily on novel engineered systems in bacteria and lower eukaryotes. Today, increasingly advanced synthetic biology approaches are applied to mammalian cells enabling rational design in substantially more complex biological networks. Many basic genetic control elements that act on transcriptional, translational and posttranslational regulation have been well characterized and these are exploited to engineer higher-order, multicomponent gene circuitry that can drive predictable and controllable gene expression. Developments in mammalian synthetic biology is envisaged to pave the way for prospective clinical applications such as drug discovery, vaccine delivery and biopharmaceutical manufacturing in mammalian cells. In SynCTI, our research aims to engineer synthetic gene regulation into the design and control of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells for the discovery and scale-up production of drug targets and novel therapeutic compounds.

Biotech 2014

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