Modularity, context-dependence, and insulation in engineered biological circuits

Trends Biotechnol. 2015 Feb;33(2):111-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2014.11.009. Epub 2014 Dec 24.


The ability to link systems together such that they behave as predicted once they interact with each other is an essential requirement for the forward-engineering of robust synthetic biological circuits. Unfortunately, because of context-dependencies, parts and functional modules often behave unpredictably once interacting in the cellular environment. This paper reviews recent advances toward establishing a rigorous engineering framework for insulating parts and modules from their context to improve modularity. Overall, a synergy between engineering better parts and higher-level circuit design will be important to resolve the problem of context-dependence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Compartmentation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Engineering / methods*
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phosphorylation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Synthetic Biology*