OCR A Level Biology

Revision Notes

6.3.4 Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology

Sequencing DNA to determine protein sequences

  • The genetic code can be used to predict the amino acid sequence within a protein
  • Once scientists know the amino acid sequence they can predict how the new protein will fold into its tertiary structure
  • This information can be used for a range of applications, such as in synthetic biology

Synthetic biology

  • Synthetic biology is a recent area of research that aims to create new biological parts, devices, and systems, or to redesign systems that already exist in nature
  • It goes beyond genetic engineering, as it involves large alterations to an organism’s genome. This new genome can cause a cell to operate in a novel way, not yet seen before
  • The assembly of the new genome can be done using existing DNA sequences or using entirely new sequences
    • These new sequences can be designed and written (using special computer programmes) so that they produce specific proteins

Synthetic biology in action: producing artemisinin

  • The most well-known use of synthetic biology is the commercial production of antimalarial drug, artemisinin
  • Artemisinin was first isolated in China from the native plant Artemisia annua
  • A. annua is difficult to cultivate, leading to an unstable supply of artemisinin at an ever-changing price often too expensive for those needing the drug most
  • Scientists have constructed a DNA sequence for a whole new metabolic pathway containing genes from bacteria, yeast, and A. annua. This pathway results in the production of artemisinic acid, a precursor to artemisinin
  • This pathway can be inserted into yeast cells which then produce artemisinic acid. The conversion of this precursor into artemisinin can then be carried out using an inexpensive process
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