Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology (SynBio) is the application of engineering principles and gene technologies to biological engineering.

SynBio exploits advances in DNA sequencing and synthesis, as well as the use of robotic automation, large data sets, artificial intelligence (particularly machine learning). Ultimately it seeks to build programmable DNA-encoded parts that behave in a reproducible manner and can be used to engineer bio-based solutions to specific problems. Synthetic biology as a field is relatively new, having emerged only a couple of decades ago, but is growing very rapidly and has significant application in industry. We view biology as the current generational technology that will deliver the next set of technological revolutions that change the way we live.

Our aims

Many of the problems we are addressing are focussed on improving sustainability and circular economy through engineering of existing biological systems and creation of new biological systems for carbon negative civilization. At QUT, we seek to:

  • Advance the discipline of Synthetic Biology through technological and conceptual innovation
  • Demonstrate the translational potential of Synthetic Biology through industry collaborations and startups
  • Grow the next generation of Synthetic Biology leaders
  • Train the future labour force for Synthetic Biology-based industries

Our Lead Scientists

Large language models like ChatGPT show how supercomputers can process information in ways that rival the human brain. But the brain is a million times more energy-efficient, and a thousand times smaller. There is an efficiency chasm between biological systems and human-made devices, even though computer-chip manufacturing is our most advanced technology. Closing that chasm would help reduce the demand for energy and other resources, ultimately leading to a more sustainable and fairer civilisation. It is therefore crucial to understand how biological systems process information at a molecular level, so we can build versatile artificial computing systems that emulate their astonishing efficiency.

Our group uses protein engineering approaches to build progressively more complex protein-based circuits that can process information in real time. Quantitative models of these circuits will reveal forces that have shaped the evolution of natural signalling systems and will ultimately make bioengineering as predictable and much less expensive than electronic and mechanical engineering. See our publications here.

Research capabilities

We build and discover new ways to make useful chemicals in more sustainable ways. Leveraging QUT’s traditional strengths in bioprocessing (where complex polymers are broken down into simple small molecules), we aim to be able to make almost any biochemical from waste products.

We use an in vitro approach to developing and prototyping new metabolic pathways. Unconstrained by native host organism metabolisms we can explore previously unobserved enzyme combinations and unnatural reaction conditions. We also engineer new functions in non-model microorganisms that have industrially useful properties (like Pseudomonas putida and Yarrowia lipolytica).

Our group contributes expertise in biochemistry, enzymology, biocatalysis, and metabolic engineering in diverse systems.

Research capabilities

The Sustainable Bioproducts Innovation Group addresses critical challenges in Australia’s animal industries and agricultural sectors. Through a multidisciplinary approach, the initiative aims to revolutionize waste management, converting byproducts into valuable resources to enhance productivity and profitability. Central to the program is a commitment to sustainability, evident in projects focused on lignin valorization, renewable energy through microalgae lipid enhancement, and the development of advanced biosensing platforms.

We use synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to drive the efficient breakdown of lignin, unlocking significant value from crop waste. The program also explores the implementation of innovative tools such as the potential of aptamers for real-time biosensing, offering a transformative approach to analytical and diagnostic methods across various industries, new mutagenesis methods or biosensor-driven HT screening platform. Overall, the Sustainable Bioproducts Innovation Group embodies a commitment to sustainable practices, technological advancements, and the creation of valuable resources from agricultural byproducts, contributing to the resilience and profitability of Australia’s key industries.

Research capabilities

Our group focuses on developing synthetic biology tools to reprogram metabolism in microbial cells to produce industrially relevant metabolites, primarily in the isoprenoid group of natural products. Isoprenoids have multitude biological functions and industrial applications (e.g., agricultural and other industrial chemicals, biopolymers, flavours, fragrances, pharmaceuticals, food additives, biofuels). We aim to make a tangible difference to people and the planet through sustainable bio-based solutions.

Research in the program hinges around understanding isoprenoid pathway metabolism and on rational engineering of organisms for production of industrially useful biochemicals. The program spans the following key themes:

  • Isoprenoid pathways: Understanding metabolic regulation and engineering isoprenoid pathway carbon flux
  • Isoprenoid biochemicals and biofuels: Engineering production of industrially useful isoprenoids
  • Synthetic biology tools: Transformation vectors, expression control systems, chromosome engineering tools, reporter systems, synthetic genetic circuits, etc.

These areas are linked though application to understanding fundamental biology and exploitation via metabolic engineering to deliver impact.

Research programs/capabilities

Research capabilities

Our collaborators

Join Us!

Interested in changing the world with synthetic biology? Join us! Reach out to one of our lead scientists to talk about how you can work and/or study with our team.