Synthetic Viruses


Advances in the synthesis of oligonucleotides have enabled the production of large DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules that can be tailored with great precision to the demands of scientists. New fields of the life sciences, synthetic biology, have been born from these advances. Using established methods of molecular cloning and reverse genetics, it has become possible to produce functional viruses using a digital template or design. The use of synthetic biology to construct viruses has proceeded rapidly because of falling costs in oligonucleotide synthesis. Synthetic viruses have been used to develop vaccine candidates, test the veracity of archived sequence data and reconstitute viruses previously thought lost to scientific study. From advent through ascension, synthetic viruses have elicited both scientific promise and public controversy.

Key Concepts

  • Synthetic virology is the production of live virus using a complete reference sequence. No natural viral copy is necessary – the parent of the virus is the computer.
  • Synthetic virology combines the technologies of DNA synthesis and reverse genetics.
  • RNA viruses typically have short genomes that make them ideal for synthesis.
  • Viruses can be attenuated through rational in silico design of novel sequences incorporating hundreds to thousands of silent nucleic acid mutations.
  • Using modern RNA and DNA extraction methodologies, viral genetic information can be sequenced and used to ‘resurrect’ viruses once thought extinct.

Keywords: oligonucleotide synthesis; reverse genetics; infectious clones; complementary DNA; codon pair deoptimisation; vaccines; RNA; DNA; synthetic virology; synthetic biology


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Further Reading

Katze MG, Korth MJ, Law GL and Nathanson N (2016) Viral Pathogenesis: From Basics to Systems Biology: Third Edition. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Inc.

Shen SH, Futcher B, Yang C and Wimmer E (2006) Synthetic Biology Approaches for Vaccine Development. Reviews in Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley‐VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.

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How to Cite close
Stauft, Charles B, and Wimmer, Eckard(Feb 2018) Synthetic Viruses. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027771]