AbstractSelf-driving labs (SDLs) combine fully automated experiments and data collection with artificial intelligence (AI) and control algorithms that decide not only the set of parameters for the next experiment, but also potentially which scientific hypotheses to test. Taken to their ultimate expression, SDLs could usher a new paradigm of scientific research, where the world is probed, interpreted, and explained by machines for human benefit. Whereas there are functioning SDLs in the fields of chemistry and materials science, we contend that synthetic biology provides a unique opportunity since the genome provides a single, easily accessible, target for affecting the incredibly wide repertoire of biological cell behavior. Since they can provide large amounts of high-quality data, SDLs can be a platform for AI to develop approaches to systematically convert data into scientific knowledge systems. These knowledge systems can be used both to understand the biological world and to design bioengineered systems to fit a desired specification (inverse design). However, the level of investment required for the creation of biological SDLs is only warranted if directed towards solving difficult and enabling biological questions. Here, we discuss challenges and opportunities in creating SDLs for synthetic biology.
Published: January 19, 2023