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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 232016, 11 pages
Review Article

Biology by Design: From Top to Bottom and Back

1Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208, USA
2Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, Northwestern University, 2170 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208, USA
3Member, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208, USA

Received 5 July 2010; Accepted 22 September 2010

Academic Editor: Ganesh Sriram

Copyright © 2010 Brian R. Fritz et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Synthetic biology is a nascent technical discipline that seeks to enable the design and construction of novel biological systems to meet pressing societal needs. However, engineering biology still requires much trial and error because we lack effective approaches for connecting basic “parts” into higher-order networks that behave as predicted. Developing strategies for improving the performance and sophistication of our designs is informed by two overarching perspectives: “bottom-up” and “top-down” considerations. Using this framework, we describe a conceptual model for developing novel biological systems that function and interact with existing biological components in a predictable fashion. We discuss this model in the context of three topical areas: biochemical transformations, cellular devices and therapeutics, and approaches that expand the chemistry of life. Ten years after the construction of synthetic biology's first devices, the drive to look beyond what does exist to what can exist is ushering in an era of biology by design.