Systems biology is a field of biology that was propelled into existence due to the development of methods to generate massively parallel experimental biological data, starting with genome sequencing projects approximately 30 years ago. Transcending the focus on single biological components, the goal of systems biology is to reverse-engineer mechanisms of biological systems to enhance our quantitative holistic understanding of biology and to translate this understanding to applications such as novel therapeutic approaches. At least two reasons justify excitement for the field: First, systems biology offers unique opportunities to advance theory and methods in engineering and computer science, due to the field’s challenges. Second, a deeper quantitative understanding of biological systems offers tremendous opportunities for real-world applications. Synthetic biology is a relatively new field of biology that leverages our rapidly expanding scientific understanding of the science of biology and combines it with powerful genetic manipulation techniques to engineer biosystems with new functionality. The goal of synthetic biology is to design and construct biological parts and components and use them to engineer novel synthetic biological circuits, devices, and systems with new function. Simultaneously, synthetic biology is concerned with the redesign of existing natural systems to repair their aberrant function or to endow them with a modified function.
This special issue will touch upon the advances and challenges in the fields of systems and synthetic biology. The many issues faced in systems and synthetic biology share much in common with similar problems faced in the various fields of electrical engineering. Readers of the Proceedings should resonate with many of these same issues and will undoubtedly find many ways in which their existing tools and insights can be profitably applied to solve problems in these field. At the same time, analysis and design in biology has unique challenges that are not usually faced by electrical engineers. Here also, there is an opportunity to adapt existing methods and develop new ones that are more suitable for dealing with the nature of biological circuits.