Engineering biology in the face of uncertainty

Sloan, W. T. and Gómez-Borraz, T.L. (2023) Engineering biology in the face of uncertainty. Interface Focus, 13, 20230001. (doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2023.0001)

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Combining engineering and biology surely must be a route to delivering solutions to the world's most pressing problems in depleting resources, energy and the environment. Engineers and biologists have long recognized the power in coupling their disciplines and have evolved a healthy variety of approaches to realizing technologies. Yet recently, there has been a movement to narrow the remit of engineering biology. Its definition as ‘the application of engineering principles to the design of biological systems' ought to encompass a broad church. However, the emphasis is firmly on construction ‘…of novel biological devices and systems from standardized artificial parts’ within cells. Thus, engineering biology has become synonymous with synthetic biology, despite the many longstanding technologies that use natural microbial communities. The focus on the nuts and bolts of synthetic organisms may be deflecting attention from the significant challenge of delivering solutions at scale, which cuts across all engineering biology, synthetic and natural. Understanding, let alone controlling, every component of an engineered system is an unrealistic goal. To realize workable solutions in a timely manner we must develop systematic ways of engineering biology in the face of the uncertainties that are inherent in biological systems and that arise through lack of knowledge.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This research was supported by the United Kingdom Research and Innovation Grants EP/V030515/1 and EP/W037475/1 and by a Royal Academy Chair in Emerging Technology for W.T.S.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Sloan, Professor William
Authors: Sloan, W. T., and Gómez-Borraz, T.L.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering > Infrastructure and Environment
Journal Name:Interface Focus
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN (Online):2042-8901
Published Online:09 June 2023
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2023 The Authors
First Published:First published in Interface Focus 13:20230001
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
309846Decentralised water technologiesWilliam SloanEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/V030515/1ENG - Infrastructure & Environment