Visualizing Synthetic Biology

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Thomas E. Gorochowski, Bryan Der, Emerson Glassey

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Biology has seen an explosion in the amounts of data that can be generated by experiments, yet our understanding of the underlying processes has not always been pushed forward by a similar amount. Our understanding of how to engineer and reprogram biology to perform new and useful tasks is still limited. The visualization presented here provides a link between design information (ordering and orientation of biological parts) and experimental data (gene expression levels), to help improve our understanding of how to tune a DNA design to ensure genes are expressed at desired strengths.

The image shows a collection of 84 artificially engineered DNA sequence designs, with symbols representing each functional element. Every design contains the same 6 genes denoted by large colored arrows that encode several of the cellular machines necessary for nitrogen fixation. The amount that each gene is produced is varied between designs by altering the control elements (monochrome colored parts), and modifying the order and orientation of various segments in the sequence. The color intensity of each gene corresponds to an experimentally measured expression level, with brighter colors representing higher concentrations.