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Synthetic Biology

Logo Synthetische Biologie am FB2 der Uni Bremen

What is synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is a highly interdisciplinary new branch of research which straddles the interfaces between molecular biology, chemistry, engineering, and materials sciences[1]. Primarily oriented to engineering, synthetic biology is concerned with adapting, reprogramming or creating new combinations of known biological entities and making them useful for defined purposes in living systems.

Thus, synthetic biology offers enormous potential for a great number of various applications. For example, it has already brought about improvements in diagnostics and medicines, the production of biosensors, innovative biomaterials and biofuels, as well as in the optimization of genetic traits. The great strength of this new research discipline lies in the versatile nature of living cells that are capable of metabolizing or synthesizing simple sugar, fat and protein in different ways and can thus act as enormous factories. By using functionalized materials for the selective manipulation of cells, whole cell groups can be specifically reprogrammed, subsequently modified, and put to good purposes.

Furthermore, the tools generated by synthetic biology, like functionalzed particles, for example, or cell control by means of light, enable novel and innovative access to central questions of basic biology research. One major novel interdisciplinary research focus centers around mechanisms of mitochondria communication and dyanmics.

[1] dfg.de/dfg_magazin/forschungspolitik_standpunkte_perspektiven/synthetische_biologie/index.html

 

Infrastructure strengths

Infrastructure strengths

 

Imaging

In the area of infrastructure, FB2 has established high-resolution state-of-the-art techniques for imaging and investigating extremely complex metabolite profiles using mass spectrometry. The combination of technologies at the University of Bremen forms an important infrastructural basis for the further development of synthetic biology.

FB2 has also established a non-invasive imaging process by means of magnetic resonance tomography (MRT). The process tests innovative contrast agents for use in functional in vivo imaging. This technology makes it possible to observe, characterize and influence complex cellular interactions in living organisms. MRT analysis of cell tissue is combined with MALDI imaging to create 3D datasets and analyze the distribution of specific signals. Here, students of neuroscience and molecular biology collaborate on analysis of signal characteristics.

Data analysis of imaging processes

Working in cooperation with Industrial Mathematics in FB3, FB2 has established a MALDI Imaging Core Facility funded by DFG. MALDI imaging mass spectrometry (MALDI imaging), is one of the four most promising innovative measuring technologies used in biochemistry. It makes it possible to visualize the complete molecular weight distribution over the entire surface of a tissue section simultaneously and with no need for chemical labels or antibodies. Creating such a molecular histology by means of mass-spectrometry-based imaging introduces a new dimension to the characterization of cells and tissues.

Furthermore, such innovative methods make it possible to visualize organismal, cellular, and pharmacological interactions as well as their interactions with different materials. The University’s industrial mathematicians developed new software packages to facilitate analysis of the complex 3-dimensional data (EU Project 3D Massomics: FB3 and FB2). In view of the large amount of data involved, such programs come in very useful. Students of industrial mathematics and biology already work closely together on developing new models for the analysis of complex biological mechanisms. By so doing, the platform for analyzing large sets of biological data is constantly being further developed and improved on.

Working in close cooperation with the Institute for Microsensors, Actuators and Systems (IMSAS) and the CU “I-See”, 200-Kanal Mikro-Elektrokortikographie processes were developed to visualize highly complex activity patterns. This technology makes it possible to observe and influence dynamic cognitive processes and how information is processed in the cerebral cortex. It also supplements the comparatively slow functional imaging by means of MRT with comparable spatial resolution and a lateral resolution in the millisecond range.

Nucleic Acid Analysis Facility (NAA), bioinformatics and analytics

Currently, a Nucleic Acid Analysis Facility (NAA) is being set up to support the synthesis, modification and new combination of genetic material.  This will provide a platform for modern next-generation sequencing and transcriptome analyses. The facility will collaborate with the newly formed area of bioinformatics.

Micromanipulation of individual cells

With the support of the Volkswagen Foundation, FB2 has established a micro-injection platform. Using targeted micro-injection methods, it is possible to inject chemicals and nucleic acids into individual cells and investigate their potential for their molecular and/or structural reprogramming. FB2 researchers are currently testing the micro-injection technique on plant cells, rats, and frogs. It is intended to extend the technique to other groups of organisms, and it can also be used to screen whole compound libraries.

Scientific excellence

Over time, FB2 has developed into an exceptionally successful high performance area of the University of Bremen. FB2 members regularly publish in internationally renowned journals and have been granted collaborative research projects in the context of competitive national and international calls. Alone the award of four European Research Council (ERC) Grants on the part of three of its female members bears testimony to the FB’s impressive capability.

All this is fruit born from the University of Bremen’s efficient and sustainable policies of equal opportunity and reflects the high level of molecular-biological research in Faculty 2.

 

Networking with other faculties

The areas of engineering and materials sciences at the University of Bremen are recognized world leaders in the field of functionalized particle technology. Integrating this expertise into the biosciences makes it possible to specifically influence cell organelles, individual cells, and entire tissue structures. The targeted adaptation and programming of cells is crucial in several areas of fundamental research, microbiology (interaction organism-microbiome, interaction mineral-microbe), biotechnology (functionalized surfaces) and medicine (functionalized cancer therapy, neuroprosthetics, diagnostics, transplantation medicine, tissue engineering, diabetology). It follows that with the development of specific tools for programming cells, synthetic biology will also have a significant role to play in the health sciences.

Excellent education in Bachelor Biology

Education and studies in the Bachelor of Biology degree program in Faculty 2 rely heavily on research-based research-based learning. The seminars and practicals in the foundation modules foster an independent and scientific approach as well as sound methodological competence and subject expertise. In their 3rd year of studies, full-major students choose from four , in which scientific studies are closely associated with research groups and given a focused specialization.

Besides this, Faculty 2 is currently launching an excellence program titled "Synthetic Biology" for exceptionally highly qualified bachelor students: In the module called "Lab-Top", a 2-year practical embedded in regular studies, second-year students are integrated in the various research groups in FB 2. This lab-work association lasts a full 2 years. In this way students are able to acquire the in-depth specialist expertise that enables them to conceive and implement research projects of their own. The practical is accompanied by a six-month symposium during which students present their projects and research results. The module thus represents a prototype of "research-based learning".

Master Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The international master’s program "Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB)" aims to provide students with practice-based education in the areas of genetics and molecular genetics, functional principles of cells, biochemical foundations of physiological processes and their pharmacological influence, as well as of developmental biological mechanisms of adaptation from the cellular up to the organismal level; the specialization MicroSys focuses on already applied aspects of synthetic biology in cooperation with the Universities of Applied Sciences in Bremen and Bremerhaven. The high quality of the collaboratively conceived teaching concept for molecular biosciences in Bremen is underlined by the strong demand for bachelor and master graduates on the part of AWI, MPI and other universities and research institutions in Germany, as well as by the notably low student dropout rate on this master’s program.