SYNTHETIC AND SYSTEMS BIOLOGY- THE INDIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

RESEARCH - SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
Synthetic Biology and Engineering Research Centre (SYNBERC) was started in 2006 with USD 16 m initiative of National Science Foundation comprising of UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Prairie View A&M University. Their focus areas are: energy production, chemical and pharmaceuticals manufacturing and fabricating materials. At the University of Washington, Prof. Pakrasi's group has won a USD 3.8 million grant to engineer tiny nitrogen-fixing devices within photosynthetic cells such that plants can make their own fertilizer ! The UK based SybiCITE consortium started in July 2013, with £ 10 m from Govt and £ 14 m from industry. The consortium comprises of 17 universities and 13 industries across the country. Their focus areas are: healthcare, agriculture, novel materials, biofuels, bioremediation and manufacturing. Global market for synthetic biology is predicted to be around USD 1.7 billion by 2018, CAGR 41% (Transparency Market Research). Key drivers of this projected growth are needs from biopharma, bio-based chemical synthesis, biofuels etc. 
 
RESEARCH - SYSTEMS BIOLOGY 
From 1960 – 1990, 95 medicines were withdrawn from the US market due to serious drug safety concerns (Royal Academy UK, 2007). The late stage compound attrition also caused significant dent to financial arm of the companies e.g., AstraZeneca’s Exanta drug (30% drop in share prices in 2004).  Given that traditional methods of drug discovery are not helping, we need novel methods and approaches of drug discovery. Systems Biology helps in reduced drug discovery costs, drug repositioning, predict on-target, off target effects, find new targets and drug combinations and predict toxicity. Some of the major global initiatives in Systems Biology are run by DARPA (USD 5.3 million, Stanford BioX program), Department of Energy (US): Genome to Life (25 year program, started in 2002), Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany) : USD 150 million : Hepatosys program.  The global market for Systems Biology has been predicted to be USD 1.2 billion by 2017, CAGR 18.5% (Market and Market report, 2012).
 
EDUCATION – SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
At Harvard Synthetic Biology course focuses on the rational design, construction, and applications of nucleic acid and protein-based synthetic molecular and cellular machinery and systems. Students are mentored to produce substantial term projects. This course is intended for graduate students in Systems Biology, Biophysics, Engineering, Biology and related disciplines. Projects are tailored to each student's strengths and interests. At SYNBERC certification courses are organized in synthetic biology , to introduce the basics of Synthetic Biology, including quantitative cellular network characterization and modeling, principles of discovery and genetic factoring of useful cellular activities into reusable functions for design, inculcate the principles of biomolecular system design and illustrate applications in Synthetic Biology and to enhance. The goals of this course is to enable students design simple cellular circuitry to meet engineering specification using both rational/model-based and library based approaches, design experiments to characterize and diagnose operation of natural and synthetic biomolecular network functions, and understand scientific, safety and ethical issues of synthetic biology.
 
EDUCATION – SYSTEMS BIOLOGY
The field of systems biology represents an integration of concepts and ideas from the biological sciences, mathematical and computational sciences. The Washington University in St. Louis has a strong systems biology training program offering a tight coupling between computational and experimental approaches. Some of the topics in the coursework are: large-scale genetic network analysis and reconstruction, technology development for high-throughput collection of genetic and biochemical data, molecular modeling of genetic regulatory circuits, single cell analyses of genetic regulatory circuits, specificity and evolution of DNA-protein interactions and so on.
 
To provide education in this emerging field, the Computational and Systems Biology (CSB) program integrates MIT's disciplines in biology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Graduates of the program are prepared to make novel discoveries, develop new methods, and establish new paradigms. They are also be well-positioned to assume critical leadership roles in both academia and industry, where this field is becoming increasingly important. A large number of faculty members spanning nearly all departments in the School of Science and the School of Engineering at MIT, provide students the opportunity to pursue thesis research in a wide variety of different laboratories. It is also possible for students to arrange collaborative thesis projects with joint supervision from faculty members with different areas of expertise. The program integrates biology, engineering, and computation to address complex problems in biological systems. The curriculum has a strong emphasis on foundational material to encourage students to become creators of future tools and technologies, rather than merely practitioners of current approaches. All students pursue a core curriculum that includes classes in biology and computational biology, along with a class in computational and systems biology based on the scientific literature. Advanced electives in science and engineering enhance both the breadth and depth of each graduate's education.

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY - THE INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
RESEARCH - SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
In India, the first major step in synthetic biology research was taken in 2006 when a team from NCBS, Bangalore represented India at the iGEM competition (MIT). Following this, in 2009 the representation from Indian scientific community increased to four teams. In 2007, the NCBS team was awarded Best modelling and Simulation prize at iGEM. In 2008 IIT Madras won “Best Foundational Advance” award. In 2009, all four Indian teams grabbed awards, the IIT Bombay team winning the silver medal.  In terms of the community effort, Synthetic Biology made its formal appearance in India in October 2010 with the Biodesign India symposium at the University of Kerala. This event created a synthetic biology interest group (SynJeevani) comprising of students, faculty and administrators.  The second synthetic biology event was held two years later at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Dec 2012 (Organizer: Prof. Indira Ghosh). This one day symposium brought together Indian Scientists and students, colleagues from the US National science Foundation, Washington University and Department of Biotechnology. In addition to special lectures in synthetic biology, JNU organized a discussion on the collaborative approach to strengthen the research and teaching activities in India in the field of Synthetic and Systems Biology.
 
RESEARCH - SYSTEMS BIOLOGY
The systems biology community in the country is evolving. In 2007, Centre for Systems Biology and Bioinformatics was started in Punjab University, Chandigarh. In 2010, Centre for Systems and Synthetic Biology was started in the University of Kerala, Trivandrum. The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu is also in the process of starting Systems Biology division to provide a holistic approach towards drug discovery. The division aims to integrate transcriptome, proteome and metabolome data for identification of novel targets and drug molecules. At the systems biology group in Bose Institute, scientists are studying network motifs, cell cycle, apoptosis, robustness, connections between organisms phenotypes and their network architecture, communication and cooperative behavior in microbes. 
 
EDUCATION - SYSTEMS AND SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
Currently there are only a few institutions like JNU, SNU, Univ. of Hyderabad, Calcutta University that have M.Sc or MTech courses on Computational & Systems Biology. Further, SNU offers one semester long M.Sc level training in synthetic biology.  However, no formal degree programs at the Masters level in systems and synthetic biology are available in our country. There is an urgent unmet need of starting a formal degree program in these areas, bridging the link between engineering and science graduates and bringing industry-relevant training at the university level.