In a recent study published in Science Advances, researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Ghent advocate for a shift in the approach to biological design. The study, titled “Open-endedness in synthetic biology: a route to continual innovation for biological design,” underscores the importance of embracing the idiosyncrasies of biological systems over a rigid focus on optimization.
The researchers argue that the key to unlocking continual innovation in biotechnologies lies in exploring the unknown. Drawing parallels with the principles of open-endedness in computer science and evolutionary biology, the team delves into how this concept can revolutionize bioengineering practices and contribute to future advancements.
Rather than solely fixating on specific goals, such as maximizing yield, the researchers propose that algorithms for biological design should prioritize the creation and maintenance of novelty and diversity in solutions. Dr. Thomas Gorochowski, a co-author and Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, notes the tendency to tweak existing processes rather than venturing into uncharted territory when designing complex biological systems. He emphasizes the significance of unexpected directions, citing that the best solutions often arise when delving into the unknown due to the multitude of unknown factors in biology.
Professor Michiel Stock, lead author from Ghent University, highlights the contrast between the natural creativity of biological systems, leading to the vast biodiversity observed in nature, and the more rigid and less imaginative nature of human attempts to engineer biology. He poses an intriguing question, pondering the prospect of harnessing the power of evolution, which has been the driving force behind all life, for our own biological designs.
The research underscores the pressing need for continual innovation in creating new biotechnologies, addressing global challenges related to sustainable production, advanced therapeutics, and more. By challenging traditional design approaches, the study provides a fresh perspective and a promising direction for future research in harnessing the full potential of biology in tackling complex problems.
Source: University of Bristol