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Synthetic Botany

An international team of researchers from University of Cambridge, The IBM Place, Signapore and The Earlham Institute in Norwich recently published a paper in the journal Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology that sought to highlight new approaches to the DNA-based manipulation of plants and advanced quantitative imaging, in order to further the rational engineering of plant traits.

Christian R. Boehm, Bernardo Pollak, Nuri Purswani, Nicola Patron, and Jim Haseloff, 2017. Synthetic Botany. Cold spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology.



Plants are attractive platforms for synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. Plants’ modular and plastic body plans, capacity for photosynthesis, extensive secondary metabolism, and agronomic systems for large-scale production make them ideal targets for genetic reprogramming. However, efforts in this area have been constrained by slow growth, long life cycles, the requirement for specialized facilities, a paucity of efficient tools for genetic manipulation, and the complexity of multicellularity. There is a need for better experimental and theoretical frameworks to understand the way genetic networks, cellular populations, and tissue-wide physical processes interact at different scales. We highlight new approaches to the DNA-based manipulation of plants and the use of advanced quantitative imaging techniques in simple plant models such as Marchantia polymorpha. These offer the prospects of improved understanding of plant dynamics and new approaches to rational engineering of plant traits.

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The Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative provides a hub for anyone interested in Synthetic Biology at the University of Cambridge, as well as commercial partners and external collaborators.