Funded by the European Union and supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (GA 101072980). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Science

A game change in biosensing

Cell-free synthetic biology for combinatorial biosensor design

Synthetic biology is a key technology of the 21st century and is fuelling a new wave of innovations with significant impact on economies and societies. Cell-free synthetic biology and its use in biosensor design will be transformative for domains ranging from in-vitro diagnostics to health, environmental and bioprocess monitoring, yielding fast and cost-efficient sensors with unprecedented sensitivity and specificity.

Cell-free synthetic biology

Cell-free biological systems make use of the transcriptional and translational machinery by using extracts or purified systems instead of living cells. This reduces the complexity of the system and enables better control of the processes to find standardised engineering solutions to new challenges.

Molecular sensor design

Molecular biosensors combine synthetic DNA-programmable responsive elements with transcription/translation systems to obtain a measurable signal (e.g. optical output) in the presence of a specific target analyte. To achieve programmable, intelligent biosensors that will respond to multi-dimensional analyte profiles, well-characterized regulatory elements combined with computer-aided design methods are needed.

Recent advances in the field of synthetic biology offer an unprecedented opportunity for next-generation biosensors characterized by programmability, low-cost and by a sensitivity and specificity unmet by conventional sensors. Leveraging the rich toolset of synthetic biology, we can now not only build better biosensors but also analytical tools that can sense and discern complex analyte profiles, such as a panel of biomarkers indicative of a certain disease status.
 
Our ambition is to provide a game change in biosensing by combining cell-free synthetic biology with molecular sensor design.
 
The SYNSENSO European doctoral network focuses on the construction of novel programmable ligand-responsive elements and the construction of cell-free computing circuits that can integrate molecular signals from those elements. Together the two components will make up the next generation of combinatorial biosensors that can sense signals and compute a response to them. SYNSENSO aims for a modular approach where different responsive elements can be composed with different computing circuits enabling fast construction of suitable sensors for new application domains.