Synthetic developmental biology: New tools to deconstruct and rebuild developmental systems

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2023 May 30;141:33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2022.04.013. Epub 2022 Apr 26.


Technological advances have driven many recent advances in developmental biology. Light sheet imaging can reveal single-cell dynamics in living three-dimensional tissues, whereas single-cell genomic methods open the door to a complete catalogue of cell types and gene expression states. An equally powerful but complementary set of approaches are also becoming available to define development processes from the bottom up. These synthetic approaches aim to reconstruct the minimal developmental patterns, signaling processes, and gene networks that produce the basic set of developmental operations: spatial polarization, morphogen interpretation, tissue movement, and cellular memory. In this review we discuss recent approaches at the intersection of synthetic biology and development, including synthetic circuits to deliver and record signaling stimuli and synthetic reconstitution of pattern formation on multicellular scales.

Keywords: Development; Gene circuits; Optogenetics; Synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Developmental Biology / methods
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Synthetic Biology* / methods