Synthetic biology to understand gene regulatory networks and their evolution
Gene regulatory networks are essential for the processing of information that cells receive continuously. Comparisons of related species indicate that the same phenotype can be the result of quite different networks. With the recent advent in synthetic biology, where well-characterised parts are assembled to reconstitute biological function, we are no longer limited to observation and perturbation of gene regulatory networks. Instead, we are now able to build simple circuits in order to better understand their mechanisms, properties, and evolution. Synthetic biology also allows us to test different solutions (i.e., genotypes) for a phenotype of interest and compare them to each other. We use this "bottom-up" synthetic biology approach to improve our understanding of what constrains and governs nature's solutions for a given task. Performing experiments with easily modifiable, well-characterised synthetic circuits helps us to directly test and validate hypotheses addressing a variety of pivotal questions in modern biology such as the robustness and evolution of gene regulatory networks. We do this by combining wet lab experiments and computational modelling. This improved knowledge will in turn help us to efficiently engineer novel robust synthetic systems suitable for applications for example in biomedicine and biotechnology.