of increasing complexity arise in the analysis of models based on heterogeneous data sources. Close collaboration between biologists and mathematicians is increasingly fruitful for both fields by providing new approaches to biological questions and also driving innovation in mathematics.

Synthetic Biology

Another foundational science that reflects the growing role of engineering in biology is synthetic biology. The ability not only to understand, but also to modify and construct biological systems will be essential if we are to apply the power of biology to diverse environmental, energy, and health problems. Synthetic biology aims to use biological modules as the components with which to engineer new biological systems. By standardizing biological parts and the way in which classes of parts can be functionally linked together, this field aims to make large-scale genetic engineering easier and more predictable, potentially leading to cells, organisms, or biologically inspired systems with highly optimized industrial or therapeutic applications.

Synthetic biology is also proving to be an effective teacher as a way to learn more about the fundamental logic of biological systems. Traditionally, natural biological systems have been studied by observation and by dissection (reverse engineering). These approaches alone, however, are often insufficient to uncover the core design principles of a system It can be difficult to identify which components and parameters are most important, especially when dealing with natural systems that have arisen through idiosyncratic evolutionary paths. The ability to build and modify a biological system provides tools to directly probe and interrogate the system. One can modify individual parameters in a controlled and combinatorial fashion to understand which ones are functionally most important and under what circumstances. One can identify minimal or alternative systems that can achieve a particular function, thereby more clearly outlining core design principles. Success in forward engineering is the ultimate test of predictable understanding; failure can be our most constructive teacher. These approaches are already bearing fruit and may ultimately generate the next great conceptual advance: a general understanding of how nature constructs robust and precise systems from noisy and imperfect parts (as well as why these systems fail under certain circumstances).


All of these factors—increasing integration within the life sciences and between the life sciences and other disciplines, a deep pool of detailed knowledge of biological components and processes, previous investment in the generation of shared data resources, stunning technological innovations, and cross-cutting sciences that are foundational across many applications—have put the

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