A design-build-test-learn tool for synthetic biology
Appleton, Evan M.
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Modern synthetic gene regulatory networks emerge from iterative design-build-test cycles that encompass the decisions and actions necessary to design, build, and test target genetic systems. Historically, such cycles have been performed manually, with limited formal problem-definition and progress-tracking. In recent years, researchers have devoted substantial effort to define and automate many sub-problems of these cycles and create systems for data management and documentation that result in useful tools for solving portions of certain workflows. However, biologists generally must still manually transfer information between tools, a process that frequently results in information loss. Furthermore, since each tool applies to a different workflow, tools often will not fit together in a closed-loop and, typically, additional outstanding sub-problems still require manual solutions. This thesis describes an attempt to create a tool that harnesses many smaller tools to automate a fully closed-loop decision-making process to design, build, and test synthetic biology networks and use the outcomes to inform redesigns. This tool, called Phoenix, inputs a performance-constrained signal-temporal-logic (STL) equation and an abstract genetic-element structural description to specify a design and then returns iterative sets of building and testing instructions. The user executes the instructions and returns the data to Phoenix, which then processes it and uses it to parameterize models for simulation of the behavior of compositional designs. A model-checking algorithm then evaluates these simulations, and returns to the user a new set of instructions for building and testing the next set of constructs. In cases where experimental results disagree with simulations, Phoenix uses grammars to determine where likely points of design failure might have occurred and instructs the building and testing of an intermediate composition to test where failures occurred. A design tree represents the design hierarchy displayed in the user interface where progress can be tracked and electronic datasheets generated to review results. Users can validate the computations performed by Phoenix by using them to create sets of classic and novel temporal synthetic genetic regulatory functions in E. coli.