About the registry
The development of well-specified, standard, and interchangable biological parts is a critical step towards the design and construction of integrated biological systems. The MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts supports this goal by recording and indexing biological parts that are currently being built and offering synthesis and assembly services to construct new parts, devices, and systems. In the future, we hope to expand this support in the areas of standards for biological part families, parameter measurement and quality control, and development of an open community of biological engineers and scientists.
The Registry Today
In the summer of 2004, the Registry contained about 100 basic parts such as operators, protein coding regions, and transcriptional terminators, and devices such as logic gates built from these basic parts. Today the number of parts has increased to about 700 available parts and 2000 defined parts.
The Registry believes in the idea that a standard biological part should be well specified and able to be paired with other parts into subassemblies and whole systems. Once the parameters of these parts are determined and standardized, simulation and design of genetic systems will become easier and more reliable. The parts in the Registry are not simply segments of DNA, they are functional units. Those functions are being specified and parameters measured. Proper interoperation of a family of devices will depend on compatible parameters. For example, consideration of composable system design for gene-expression-based systems has resulted in the specification of a new unit of measurement, POPS (Polymerases Per Second). POPS measure the rate of transcription at the boundaries of a part. We are now characterizing parts in terms of POPS. Assembly of parts into devices and systems is being performed using traditional cloning techniques with a set of restriction sites that allow easy composition of devices that, in turn, can themselves be used as parts. Simultaneous parallel assembly lets us build many biological systems quickly.
The Registry is central to the iGEM competition. Many of these parts and devices already in the Registry have been developed by student teams and used to build biological systems in past iGEM competitions.
The Registry Tomorrow
As the registry evolves, we see these key trends and challenges.
- Parameter measurement and part 'design to specification'.
- Avoidance, control and exploitation of desired or undesired evolution of parts, devices, and systems.
- Transitioning from the collection and characterization of natural parts to the design, specification, and characterization of synthetic parts.
- Developing an open and expanding community of part designers and part users.
Today, DNA synthesis is expensive; long sequence synthesis remains problematic. It is sometimes much easier to modify a natural DNA sequence than to specify and construct one from scratch. As DNA synthesis technology becomes less expensive and overcomes technical challenges, we believe that attention will shift towards DNA design (i.e., the information specifying what DNA sequence to make will be much more important than posession of a specific DNA molecule). The specification of parts and the rules for combination into systems developed for the registry will be valuable long after physical parts repositories become historical artifacts.