Synthetic Biology - NUS Medical Sciences Cluster


Synthetic biology is a maturing scientific discipline that combines science and engineering in order to design and build new biological parts, devices and systems. The ability to engineer biological systems with complexity and functions holds great promise in providing biological solutions to some of world’s pressing problems in the areas of resource, energy, healthcare and the environment.

Living systems have the natural ability to transform simple compounds and nutrients into complex chemicals and materials. Microorganisms have been used for decades in the production of fermented food and chemicals and as sources of antibiotics and enzymes. Synthetic biology utilizes newly available tools in genetic, protein and metabolic engineering to reprogram living cells into ‘bio-factories’ to produce valuable products such as biofuel, food ingredients and medicine from inexpensive renewable raw materials. In a bid to build a more sustainable future, synthetic biology also offers green solutions such as the creation of novel metabolically-engineered microorganisms capable of metal recovery from electronic waste recycling and toxic metal bioremediation of polluted wastes and landfills.

In the advancing field of medical sciences, cell therapy has been regarded as the fourth and final pillar of healthcare after pharmaceuticals, biologics and medical devices. Early therapeutic approaches involved the manipulation of the commensal microbial composition through diet and the use of antibiotics, probiotics and prebiotics. With the advent of new tools in synthetic biology, we envisage the next generation of cell-based therapeutics to involve engineering of the human microbiota to create recombinant microbes. These engineered microbes would be producers and targeted delivery vehicles of molecules with prophylactic and therapeutic properties against human infectious diseases as well as immune and metabolic disorders, thus translating synthetic biology research into real-world clinical applications.

synthetic biology

The Way Forward

  • Design and construction of new biosynthetic or artificial metabolic pathways in microorganisms for the production of high-value compounds with strong industrial relevance and potential
  • Reprogramming the human microbiota into functional probiotics with prophylactic and therapeutic properties against human infectious diseases as well as immune and metabolic disorders
  • Creation of metabolically engineered microorganisms for commodity metal recovery from electronic waste and bioremediation of toxic metals
  • Engineering of synthetic gene regulation into mammalian cells for the delivery and scale-up production of drug targets and novel therapeutic compounds
  • Modular design of genetic regulatory circuits in both microbial and mammalian systems to develop multifarious affinity biosensors for potential use as rapid diagnostic kits
  • Construction of the synthetic genome of yeast to yield novel functionalities for basic science investigations and applications in medical and industrial biotechnologies

Faculty Involved in the MSC Synthetic Biology Programme

Researcher Department Description of Research
Yew Wen Shan (Facilitator) Biochemistry Enzyme engineering, drug design and development, engineering sustainability
Matthew Chang (Facilitator) Biochemistry Microbiome engineering, metabolic engineering, probiotic development
Hanry Yu Physiology Regenerative medicine, in vitro liver diseases models, tissueomics, digital pathology of liver and gastrointestinal diseases, organs on chip, physiology of bile canaliculi and canals of herring
Tee Wee Wei Physiology Regenerative medicine, genomics, epigenetics, disease modelling
Volker Patzel Microbiology & Immunology RNA technologies, gene therapy, dumbbell-shaped genetic minimal vectors