Genomes evolve through the processes of mutagenesis, gene transfer and natural selection. Synthetic biology seeks to harness these forces, rationally modifying and reassembling natural biological components to engineer living systems that can perform functions that evolution has not provided. Plant biotechnology has accelerated away from its beginnings in random mutagenesis and single-gene transgenesis and is seeking to apply the practices and efficiencies of mechanical and computational engineering to address global challenges.
Nicola Patron is a molecular and synthetic biologist interested in the (natural and engineered) transfer of genetic material between genomes of different species. At The Sainsbury Laboratory Nicola designs and develops molecular tools to engineer plant genomes and produce novel functions in plant cells. Current projects include:
• Establishing a standard genetic syntax for plant synthetic biology
• Creating toolkits of characterised standard parts for engineering plants
• Developing tools and methods for the precise modification of plant genomes including targeted gene transfer
• Engineering plants to improve disease-resistance, growth and nutrition to alleviate the dual global challenges of under- and over nutrition
As a bioengineer, Nicola is also interested the societal impacts of synthetic biology and the complex intellectual property issues that surround genetic sequences, DNA and natural products. Nicola is an advocate of responsible and ethical innovation and of open-source tools for biology. As a 2015 SynBioLEAP fellow Nicola is recognized as an emerging leader in synthetic biology.