Plant synthetic biology round-up

Well, I’ve just about recovered from this week’s GARNet meeting, An Introduction to Opportunities in Plant Synthetic Biology. It was a great two days. For a report of the meeting through the medium of Twitter, including links to resources and papers from the speakers, see this Storify I made – thanks to everyone who Tweeted throughout the meeting!

I’ve rounded up a few of the resources and papers I think would be most helpful for plant scientists below. The Storify of the meeting contains more, and keep an eye on the Journal of Experimental Botany for a series of perspectives and a meeting report over the coming months.

Tools and resources:

  • CellModeller is an open source software from Jim Haseloff’s lab, which allows users to model multicellular systems. It has been used to model the growth and behavious of synthetic microbial biofilms (Rudge et al. 2012, ACS SynBio 1:345), and plant cell division and expansion (Dupuy et al. 2010, PNAS 107:2711). For toll-free links to both papers, go to the CellModeller website.
  • TAL effectors were mentioned in a number of talks, and were presented to the audience by Sebastian Schornack, who declared them fool-proof means of DNA editing. For protocols, papers, and more information see the TAL effectors website, and you can order custom TALs from Life Technologies. Sebastian is keeping a database of papers using TAL effectors on
  • Golden Gate cloning and its variants are extremely powerful tools for DNA assembly and combinatorial library construction. Speakers Giles Oldroyd and Tom Ellis have used it to great effect. Sylvestre Marrillionet explained to delegates how Golden Gate cloning was invented and what it can be used for – to find out how to use it, see his papers or get in touch with him. This website also gives a good overview and selection of useful papers.
  • Gibson Assembly is another powerful DNA assembly tool, which was presented by Jim Ajioka at the meeting. There is a very comprehensive guide to using it, including sequences and protocols, online here.
  • The Infobiotics Workbench was designed by speaker Natalio Krasnagor. It is a freely available framework for carrying out in silico experiments, from design to results visualisation.

Inspirational plant synthetic biology projects

  • June Medford presented the most complete plant synthetic biology project, the plants which de-colour in the presence of toxins – the synthetic signal transduction pathway that the ‘plant sentinels’ contain is published in PLOS ONE. You can see her papers, many with toll-free links, on her website. Also, if you’re looking for an adventurous post-doc position, she’s recruiting!
  • Last year Giles Oldroyd received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build synthetic signalling pathways into wheat to enable sybmiosus between this global food crop and nitrogen fixing bacteria. You can see his progress so far in papers on his website.

More information and sites of interest

  • To keep up to date with synthetic biology news and funding, and to link up with possible collaborators, join the Synthetic Biology Special Interest group from the Bisosciences Knowledge Transfer Network.
  • Many of the speakers at the meeting were also at last year’s New Phytologist workshop on synthetic biology. You can see videos of the talks on YouTube, and the meeting report in New Phytologist 3:617.
  • If you’re interested in synthetic biology and want to get plugged into the community, think about going to the 2nd International Synthetic Yeast Genome Consortium Meeting. True, it’s not about green leafy things, but the techniques discussed will be relevant and you’ll make good connections.

Review papers

  • Speaker Tom Ellis recommended this recent review article from Kahl and Endy (Open Access; JBE 7:13) for an overview of available DNA assembly methods.
  • This open access 2012 review by Richard Kitney is an overview of the current situation in synthetic biology – Kitney and Freemont 2012; FEBS Letters 587:2029).

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  1. […] been working on the meeting report from last year’s An Introduction to Plant Synthetic Biology workshop for months, so we’re delighted that GARNet Chair Professor Jim Murray is going to […]

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