A systems biology approach integrates layers of information contained in large data sets that identify the molecules important to a cell's metabolism and their interactions. The study of each layer of information is a discipline in itself; together they are informally called the "omics." Pakrasi's team, for example, plans to include cyanobacterial phenomics, genomics, transcriptomics and metabolomics within the sweep of their study.
"Although it might seem that systems biology would lead to information overload," says Pakrasi, "the goal is to locate the control points, or the hubs in the network where many pathways intersect. This actually gives scientists much finer control over the organism than if they were to reach in blindly and replace one node without understanding what role that node plays in the complex network that gives the organism its robustness and resilience."
"It all depends on the questions you ask of the data," Pakrasi says. "You want to know the important things, just as, when you look at a car, you want to know first how many cylinders it has, not how many nuts and bolts."
The second step in the process, synthetic biology, gained notoriety when Craig Venter of human genome fame announced in May 2010 that his team had created the first synthetic bacterium. Since Venter's team put newly constructed parts into existing but empty cells of brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), some said the organism was not entirely new and so couldn't claim the title of the first entirely synthetic organism.
In fact, however, synthetic biology is an elastic discipline that includes any attempt to design and construct biological functions or systems not found in nature.
Pakrasi's team plans to take a similar approach. In their case the "chassis," as Pakrasi call
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis