Molecular Imaging and Biology

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 373–378 | Cite as

Molecular Imaging in Synthetic Biology, and Synthetic Biology in Molecular Imaging

  • Assaf A. GiladEmail author
  • Mikhail G. ShapiroEmail author
Special Topic


Biomedical synthetic biology is an emerging field in which cells are engineered at the genetic level to carry out novel functions with relevance to biomedical and industrial applications. This approach promises new treatments, imaging tools, and diagnostics for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal inflammatory syndromes to cancer, diabetes, and neurodegeneration. As these cellular technologies undergo pre-clinical and clinical development, it is becoming essential to monitor their location and function in vivo, necessitating appropriate molecular imaging strategies, and therefore, we have created an interest group within the World Molecular Imaging Society focusing on synthetic biology and reporter gene technologies. Here, we highlight recent advances in biomedical synthetic biology, including bacterial therapy, immunotherapy, and regenerative medicine. We then discuss emerging molecular imaging approaches to facilitate in vivo applications, focusing on reporter genes for noninvasive modalities such as magnetic resonance, ultrasound, photoacoustic imaging, bioluminescence, and radionuclear imaging. Because reporter genes can be incorporated directly into engineered genetic circuits, they are particularly well suited to imaging synthetic biological constructs, and developing them provides opportunities for creative molecular and genetic engineering.

Key words

Synthetic biology Imaging Reporter genes 



We thank the members of the Shapiro and Gilad labs and the founding members of the Synthetic Biology and Reporter Genes (SyBRG) interest group of the World Molecular Imaging Society for their contributions to this field and the ideas presented in this article. In addition to the authors, founding members of SyBRG include Christopher Contag, Michal Neeman, Roger Tsien, David Piwnica-Worms, Michael Lin, Daniel Turnbull, Stuart Foster, Michael McMahon, Jeff Bulte, Brian Rutt, Vladimir Ponomarev, Erik Shapiro, Alan Jasanoff, Jeffrey Cirillo, Vasilis Ntziachristos, Jianghong Rao, Moriel Vandsburger, Gil Westmeyer, Brian Chow, and Il Minn. We also note with regret that, due to space limitations, we were not able to cite all the relevant work in this field and instead reference a smaller number of examples.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© World Molecular Imaging Society 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological ScienceThe Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Cellular Imaging Section and Vascular Biology Program, Institute for Cell EngineeringThe Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.F.M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain ImagingKennedy Krieger InstituteBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Division of Chemistry and Chemical EngineeringCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  5. 5.Heritage Medical Research InstituteCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA

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