14 February 2010
A new facility called BIOFAB (International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology) has been established with funding from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the BioBricks Foundation (BBF). BIOFAB intends to create standardised DNA parts that will be made freely available to academic and commercial groups seeking to use synthetic biology to create organisms for different purposes (see press release).
The ‘parts’ will be crucial genetic control elements, initially from the laboratory bacterial strain E. coli, which will be characterised and standardised with a view to creating standard elements that can be used to create de novo biological systems. The hope is that these will substantially decrease the time and cost of developing new synthetic organisms, which have all sorts of potential applications such as the production of biofuels, drugs and other therapeutics.
BIOFAB will use resources such as the BioBrick Public Agreement, a proposed legal framework to support the free exchange and use of standardised biological components; it will also include research into ethical issues such as safety and security. Common concerns about bioengineering include issues relating to the deliberate design of dangerous new biological weapons, and wider worries about the inadvertent creation of organisms with other detrimental effects on nature.