Synthetic biology to access and expand nature's chemical diversity

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2016 Mar;14(3):135-49. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro.2015.24.


Bacterial genomes encode the biosynthetic potential to produce hundreds of thousands of complex molecules with diverse applications, from medicine to agriculture and materials. Accessing these natural products promises to reinvigorate drug discovery pipelines and provide novel routes to synthesize complex chemicals. The pathways leading to the production of these molecules often comprise dozens of genes spanning large areas of the genome and are controlled by complex regulatory networks with some of the most interesting molecules being produced by non-model organisms. In this Review, we discuss how advances in synthetic biology--including novel DNA construction technologies, the use of genetic parts for the precise control of expression and for synthetic regulatory circuits--and multiplexed genome engineering can be used to optimize the design and synthesis of pathways that produce natural products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biological Products / chemistry*
  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Drug Discovery
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Multigene Family*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*


  • Biological Products