New Phytologist Editors’ Choice October 2015

Last updated: 28 Aug, 2015

Plant synthetic biology

In June 2012 the 4th New Phytologist Workshop on synthetic biology brought together scientists working in the highly interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology to discuss research across three key themes, including ‘Engineering principles and approaches in synthetic biology’; ‘Synthetic biology in microbes’; and ‘Synthetic biology in plants’. The presentations from this Workshop are freely available:


It is fitting, therefore, that we take this opportunity to highlight a cluster of articles published in the most recent issue of New Phytologist, which develop the themes discussed at the June 2012 Workshop.


First, a new Viewpoint article in the Forum section of the journal outlines the development of the first common standard for the assembly of DNA parts for plant synthetic biology. This work led by Dr Nicola Patron of the Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK, describes the development of a standard for Type IIS restriction endonuclease-mediated assembly, defining a common syntax of 12 fusion sites to enable the assembly of eukaryotic transcriptional units. This common syntax is the result of work by leaders of the international plant science and synthetic biology communities, including inventors, developers and adopters of Type IIS cloning methods.

Figure 3 from Patron et al. (2015). Twelve fusion sites have been defined. These sites allow a multitude of standard parts to be generated. Standard parts comprise any portion of a gene cloned into a plasmid flanked by a convergent pair of BsaI recognition sequences. Parts can comprise the region between an adjacent pair of adjacent fusion sites. Alternatively, to reduce complexity or when a particular functional element is not required, parts can span multiple fusion sites (examples in pink boxes).


Also in the Forum, a Meeting Report by Ruth Carmichael and co-authors highlights the ERASynBio/OpenPlant summer school for early career researchers, held in September 2014. This meeting aimed to provide participants with an introduction to synthetic biology in plant systems, and it marks the second ERASynBio-funded summer school that brought together early career researchers for synthetic biology training and networking.


Finally, a Profile of New Phytologist Editor and Trustee Anne Osbourne rounds off the cluster. Anne is a Project Leader at the John Innes Centre and Director of the Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Alliance. She also co-organised the 2012 New Phytologist Workshop, and is a Co-Director of the OpenPlant Consortium, a collaborative initiative between the University of Cambridge, the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich that is focused on the development of open technologies for plant synthetic biology.


Patron NJ, Orzaez D, Marillonnet S, Warzecha H, Matthewman C, Youles M, Raitskin O, Leveau A, Farré G, Rogers C. 2015. Standards for plant synthetic biology: a common syntax for exchange of DNA parts. New Phytologist 208: 13–19.

Carmichael RE, Boyce A, Matthewman C, Patron NJ. 2015. An introduction to synthetic biology in plant systems: ERASynBio/OpenPlant summer school for early career researchers, September 2014. New Phytologist 208: 20–22.

Osbourn A. 2015. Profile: Anne Osbourn. New Phytologist 208: 23–25.


Sarah Lennon, Managing Editor New Phytologist

Lancaster, United Kingdom


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Originally posted 28 August 2015.