MaxSynBio: Design of Artificial Cells from Functional Modules
The exciting field of Synthetic Biology focuses on producing engineered, predictable cells or other biological systems to carry out desired functions that do not exist in nature. Conceptually, the complexity of biological systems can be divided into smaller subsystems (functional modules) followed by re-designing and re-assembling them into larger units. This can be considered as an analogue to the design of a biotechnological process or plant. Therefore, in this field the PSE group introduces concepts of Process Systems Engineering into Synthetic Biology and sparks inspirations and synergies that would not be possible without this interdisciplinary encounter. To realize this concept, the PSE Group has teamed up with researchers from 8 other Max Planck Institutes and a research group from the Friedrich-Alexander University in the MaxSynBio research consortium, which is jointly funded by the Max Planck Society and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany.
The primary scientific goal of MaxSynBio is a true bottom-up engineering approach towards understanding living systems, in fact, the rational synthesis of a minimal artificial cell from well characterized modules/parts (Figure 1). The near future in this field will lean heavily on the top-down approach, i.e. minimal systems derived from an existing organism. The bottom-up approach (starting from first principles) might allow us to refine and further improve these minimal systems with synthetic or biological components but it remains unclear, whether exclusively bottom-up systems will ever cross the realm of living matter.
The MaxSynBio Research Network creates a unique opportunity for the PSE group to develop new design methodologies for assembly of biological systems, as sketched in a review article . On the long term, synthetic biosystems are expected to have a big impact on many fields, such as the production of drugs and biofuels, and the chemical conversion of energy. The responsibilities of the PSE group within the MaxSynBio consortium include (Figure 2):
- Establishment and characterization of an energy supply module for artificial cells
- Establishment and characterization of a NAD regeneration module
- Coupling of the energy supply module with energy consuming subsystems
- Establishment and characterization of a metabolic module for artificial cells
- Integration of functional modules into artificial cell compartments
- Computer-aided modeling and modular design of synthetic cells (in collaboration with apl. Prof. Mangold, PSD group).
 Rollié, S., Mangold, M. and Sundmacher, K. (2012). Designing biological systems: systems engineering meets synthetic biology. Chemical Engineering Science, 69(1), 1-29