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Standards development

Standardization is one of the key engineering principles being exported to the new field of synthetic biology. Many synthetic biologists see standards as a crucial part of the supporting infrastructure in this field – an analogy is often made with the standardization of screw threads in the 19th century, which facilitated the building of machines so central to the Industrial Revolution. Will the standardization of biological parts allow a similar revolution in biology? What does it mean to standardize a biological part? And how should we decide what appropriate standards would be? These are all questions that synthetic biologists are actively exploring.

Led by the BioBricks Foundation, the synthetic biology community has initiated an approach to standards development that is explicitly modelled on the process used by the Internet Engineering Task Force – which is widely thought to have been an innovative and effective model for supporting the development of internet standards. Could a similar model work for synthetic biology?

The method for proposing new standards is by submitting a ‘Request For Comments’ (RFC) to the community – and then hoping that members of the community respond with comments that help to refine or improve this proposal!

The SynBioStandards network is currently working on a number of RFCs. All RFCs submitted by Network members will be posted below.

For a complete list of RFCs (there are already 50+) visit the BioBricks Foundation website.

RFCs on the BioBricks Foundation website

The RFC celebrated its 40th birthday in 2009: read a brief history of the RFC published in the New York Times on 6 April 2009

Adam Arkin’s 2008 piece in Nature Biotechnology is a good technical introduction to the challenges of standard-setting in synthetic biology