Viewpoint: Standard syntax for synthetic biology

Last updated: 21 Jul, 2015

An international team of plant scientists and synthetic biologists have outlined a ‘common grammar’ for use when assembling multiple DNA fragments to be inserted into eukaryotic organisms, described in a Viewpoint in New Phytologist (available as Early View).


Until recently, the co-assembly of several DNA sequences into a single plasmid for use in genetic engineering was inefficient and time consuming, but advances in synthetic biology techniques have allowed a library of standardised biological parts to be developed for rapid assembly. In their Viewpoint article, Nicola Patron and her colleagues describe how ‘Golden Gate’ cloning, which allows the simultaneous and ordered assembly of DNA fragments using a set of synthetic biology tools, will “simplify the process of designing, constructing and modifying complex biological systems”.


Golden Gate cloning makes use of Type IIS restriction enzymes, which, unlike Type II restriction enzymes, recognise non-palindromic sequence motifs and can cleave the DNA outside of their restriction site. This allows users to define the overhang sequence at the ends of their fragment, producing fragment-specific ends that can be used to simultaneously assemble many DNA strands in a specific order. 


Image: Synthetic plant biologists can use Type IIS restriction enzymes to produce compatible overhang sequences at the ends of their DNA fragments, enabling simultaneous and ordered assembly of all parts in a combined digestion-ligation reaction. Image credit: Patron et al., 2015.


Several research groups have developed their own Golden Gate tools that are incompatible with other laboratories. The shared syntax of standardised reusable components developed Patron et al. will facilitate cooperation throughout the plant science community, accelerating bioengineering and enabling new innovations in plant synthetic biology. 


Image: The universal acceptor plasmid described by Patron et al. (2015) is a tool used in Golden Gate cloning. Image credit: Patron et al. (2015).


Patron and colleagues end their Viewpoint article by inviting the plant science and synthetic biology communities to adopt their protocol and build on their work to create a library of standardised tools for plants.


To find out more about synthetic biology in plants, watch these videos from the 4th New Phytologist Workshop, ‘Synthetic Biology’.



Patron, NJ, Orzaez, D, Marillonne, S, et al., 2015. Standards for plant synthetic biology: a common syntax for exchange of DNA parts. New Phytologist: Early View.