Natural genomes are shaped by evolution, a process of serendipity that produces complex and highly redundant genetic systems. Characterizing such a system often has the feel of peeling an onion, where there are endless layers of complex regulation. We are applying principles from synthetic biology to rebuild cellular functions from the bottom up. Natural regulation is systematically replaced with synthetic well-characterized genetic parts. This yields a “refactored” system whose genetics are fully specified. This process produces a platform for further engineering and to transfer functions between organisms. In the center, this is being applied to prokaryotic gene clusters that encode functions that include chemical synthesis, photosynthesis, and protein secretion.
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