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Mammalian Synthetic Biology: Time for Big MACs

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Early online date13 Apr 2016
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Apr 2016

Abstract

The enabling technologies of synthetic biology are opening up new opportunities for engineering and enhancement of mammalian cells. This will stimulate diverse applications in many life science sectors such as regenerative medicine, development of biosensing cell lines, therapeutic protein production, and generation of new synthetic genetic regulatory circuits. Harnessing the full potential of these new engineering-based approaches requires the design and assembly of large DNA constructs-potentially up to chromosome scale-and the effective delivery of these large DNA payloads to the host cell. Random integration of large transgenes, encoding therapeutic proteins or genetic circuits into host chromosomes, has several drawbacks such as risks of insertional mutagenesis, lack of control over transgene copy-number and position-specific effects; these can compromise the intended functioning of genetic circuits. The development of a system orthogonal to the endogenous genome is therefore beneficial. Mammalian artificial chromosomes (MACs) are functional, add-on chromosomal elements, which behave as normal chromosomes-being replicating and portioned to daughter cells at each cell division. They are deployed as useful gene expression vectors as they remain independent from the host genome. MACs are maintained as a single-copy and can accommodate multiple gene expression cassettes of, in theory, unlimited DNA size (MACs up to 10 megabases have been constructed). MACs therefore enabled control over ectopic gene expression and represent an excellent platform to rapidly prototype and characterize novel synthetic gene circuits without recourse to engineering the host genome. This review describes the obstacles synthetic biologists face when working with mammalian systems and how the development of improved MACs can overcome these-particularly given the spectacular advances in DNA synthesis and assembly that are fuelling this research area.

    Research areas

  • mammalian synthetic biology, artificial chromosome, chromosome engineering

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