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Cell-free Synthetic Biology

Recent technical advances in the preparation of microbial cell-free extracts have given rise to a new class of highly efficient systems for gene expression that are cheap to deploy and have huge potential benefit for the provision of a wide variety of diagnostics, sensors, vaccines and research materials. Cell-free synthetic biology is thus a topic of growing interest to many groups in Cambridge and the Synthetic Biology SRI is pleased to share its programme of activities to promote and support interdisciplinary work in this space.

If you'd like to receive updates on cell-free meetups, training events and workshops, sign up to our mailing list. Check out our upcoming cell-free events on our Meetup. 


Why is cell-free synthetic biology important? 

The field of Synthetic Biology is introducing low-cost, breakthrough technologies for a wide range of practical challenges including diagnostics, environmental conservation, microbial bioproduction, crop improvement and human health. Biological engineering can play an important role for the future well-being and economic development of sustainable societies in all parts of the world. 


Synthetic biology offers new tools and approaches

    1. Standardised, modular DNA parts and rapid assembly of genetic circuits for reprogramming biological systems.

    2. Cell free expression systems that do not require containment, and can be freeze-dried and stored at ambient temperatures to eliminate the need for refrigeration.

    3. Transient gene expression in contained hosts, and transgene-free genome editing to avoid the costs, resources and regulatory hurdles associated with the deployment of genetically modified organisms.

    4. Legal frameworks, repositories and open technologies for the open exchange of genetic materials. 

International efforts to develop open standards and protocols for DNA parts and tools provide a major impetus for technology transfer, with benefits for  (i) rapid-response production of vaccines and biologics, (ii) point-of-use diagnostics and field biosensors, (iii) agricultural crop improvement using non-transgenic (genome editing) tools, and (iv) harnessing local biodiversity to build  sustainable bioeconomies.

While these new technologies are relatively low-cost, their adoption in low resource environments is limited by deficits in technical training, poor access to new research materials, requirement for expensive laboratory facilities, and lack of strategic partnerships with better established research institutions.

The latest generation of cell-free gene expression systems provide a low cost platform for DNA programming that is (i) highly efficient and fast, (ii) can be distributed in lyophilised form and does not require a cold-chain, and (iii) does not include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that require expensive containment procedures. Cell-free systems have the potential to allow radical new approaches to curriculum development in low resource environments and in interdisciplinary programs with physicists and engineers. 

There are several main obstacles to development of new educational resources and research tools based on cell-free systems:

    1. Availability of low-cost cell-free extracts.

    2. Low cost instrumentation and lab equipment.

    3. Accessible and and modular technical resources for customised curriculum development.

    4. Building local expertise and capacity through shared knowledge and exchange of open-source tools and materials.

What we are doing to promote cell-free synthetic biology:


For more information follow the links above or contact the SRI on .


Cell-free Synthetic Biology News

Try a protein cell-free expression system for free with Quentin Dudley, OpenPlant fund grantee [Deadline: June 1 2018]
Quentin Dudley, postdoc with Nicola Patron (EI) and Sarah O'Connor (JIC) has established an in-house E.coli CFPS system to test a range of different proteins from various plants. He's looking for researchers to contribute their plant gene of interest in exchange for the output protein.
Success with DIY DNA Circuits at Science Makers
The SynBio SRI event series Science Makers took on the theme of DIY DNA circuits in November 2017. Attendees constructed a NAND logic gate and a DIY visualiser using an LED grid and laser cut box designed by Helene Steiner, a member of the SRI Steering Committee.
Biohackathon 2017 'Decentralised Biology' is open for applications
Whatever your discipline or age Biohackathon 2017 is open to all and encourages diverse people of any age, coming up with diverse solutions, from any discipline. Whether you are a designer, artist, actor, scientist, MBA, engineer, mathematician or programmer you are welcome to apply.
Programmable biology in the test tube: new interdisciplinary activity series launched by SRI
In vitro or cell-free synthetic biology is a topic of growing interest to many groups in Cambridge and the Synthetic Biology SRI is pleased to announce an upcoming programme of activities to promote and support interdisciplinary work in this space.

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