At a first glance, synthetic biology and applied biocatalysis do not seem to have much in common as they are considered two different research areas in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Synthetic biology studies the origin and development of minimal systems that comprise of the full cell machinery to maintain proliferation and metabolic pathways and looks for enhanced characteristics and traits through the design of chemically synthesized DNA. In addition, it aims at creating new building blocks for the assembly of larger synthetic biological circuits, new biological systems such as tissues or even organs as well as biological machines which are macromolecular components that carry out mechanical movement on a nanoscale.
Applied biocatalysis investigates chemical reactions by applying enzymes engineered for highest efficiency with regards to stability, catalytic activity, selectivity and substrate specificity. The combination of computational studies and directed evolution leads to gene libraries that allow the targeted improvement of the properties of the enzymes and the conversion of cheap educts into valuable products. Process intensification by applying cascades of improved enzymes under optimized reaction conditions enables the upscaling from laboratory scale to industrial large scale.
However, a closer look reveals that synthetic biology and applied biocatalysis, as multidisciplinary fields of research, do have a lot in common. Here, engineering is key; engineering of enzymes that require a minimum of both chemical energy and building blocks to be assembled to catalyse chemical reactions in one or multiple steps under non-physiological conditions. Synthetic biology involves designing and redesigning biological systems for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.