Written by: Karmella Haynes.
Ron Weiss talked about his projects in using synthetic biology to control the behavior of mammalian cells. He shared his progress in developing computer-aided design tools for generating a specific gene circuit from a descriptive goal (e.g., Make a cell produce insulin when I expose it to doxycycline), which have been launched online through the BBN Synthetic Biology Tools site. His group even has automated liquid handling and micro fluidics systems for building very large synthetic genes from off-the-shelf DNA parts. However epigenetic silencing of the synthetic genes once they have been put into mammalian and human cells remains a troublesome barrier. He concluded his talk with the latest projects in his lab, which include custom-built gene regulators and in vitro growth of multiple germ layers…seeded with cells from George Church.
I gave a talk to introduce CSH Synthetic Biology students and TA’s to my research in synthetic chromatin at ASU. After Ron introduced the problem of epigenetic silencing, I followed up with ideas about how synthetic biologists might use chromatin (an epigenetic mechanism) to our advantage. I reviewed my work on controlling bone cancer cell growth with a synthetic chromatin protein called PcTF, and presented new work where my team tested this technology in other types of cancer cells. Synthetic chromatin can also be used to investigate or enable genome editing (e.g., via CRISPR) and more reliable operation of synthetic genes, which will be the main topic of my focused CSH Syn Bio small-group exploration in week two.