Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Ecological Firewalls for Synthetic Biology

Version 1 : Received: 4 March 2022 / Approved: 4 March 2022 / Online: 4 March 2022 (21:50:53 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Vidiella, B.; Solé, R. Ecological Firewalls for Synthetic Biology. iScience, 2022, 25, 104658. Vidiella, B.; Solé, R. Ecological Firewalls for Synthetic Biology. iScience, 2022, 25, 104658.


While rapidly becoming a main thread in the development of new therapies, the rise of synthetic biology is also tied to concerns about the potential impact on ecosystems. That is particularly relevant in the of deployment in natural habitats, including the human microbiome. These concerns have boosted the analysis of diverse strategies of containment, from engineered cell death to xenobiology to the creation of Xeno nucleic acids. However, little attention has been paid to the potential containment implicit in nonlinear ecological interactions and the lessons provided by the population dynamics models used in community ecology. If we consider synthetic strains as some class of "species" embedded within an ecological context, it is possible to show that some network interaction patterns and their associated nonlinear responses can offer a reliable source of containment. Here we present and discuss some simple examples of these "ecological firewalls" that could help provide a self-regulating biocontainment. Our firewall designs can help to ensure that engineered organisms have a limited spread while, when required, preventing their extinction. The basic synthetic designs and their dynamical behaviour are presented, each one inspired in a given ecological class of interaction. Their possible applications are discussed and the broader connection with invasion ecology outlined.


ecological firewalls; synthetic microbiomes; mutualism; cooperation


Biology and Life Sciences, Anatomy and Physiology

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