The richness and versatility of biological systems make them ideally suited to solve some of the world's most significant challenges, such as converting cheap, renewable resources into energy-rich molecules; producing high-quality, inexpensive drugs to fight disease; and remediating polluted sites. Over the years, significant strides have been made in engineering microorganisms to produce fuels, bulk chemicals, and valuable drugs from inexpensive starting materials; to detect and degrade nerve agents as well as less toxic organic pollutants; and to accumulate metals and reduce radionuclides. The components needed to engineer the chemistry inside a microbial cell are significantly different from those commonly used to overproduce pharmaceutical proteins. Synthetic biology has had and will continue to have a significant impact on the development of these components to engineer cellular metabolism and microbial chassis to host the chemistry. The ready availability of more well-characterized gene expression components and hosts for chemical synthesis, standards for the connection of these components to make larger functioning devices, computer-aided design software, and debugging tools for biological designs will decrease both the time and the support needed to construct these designs. Some of the most important tools for engineering bacterial metabolism and their use for production of the antimalarial drug artemisinin are reviewed.