BioBrick parts were introduced by Tom Knight at MIT. Drew Endy, now at Stanford, and Christopher Voigt, at UCSF, are also heavily involved in the project. A registry of several thousand public domain BioBrick parts is maintained by Randy Rettberg team at http://partsregistry.org The annual iGEM competition promotes the BioBrick parts concept by involving undergraduate and graduate students in the design of biological systems. The term BioBrick, intended to be used as an adjective, is a trademark of the not-for-profit BioBricks Foundation.
One of the goals of the BioBricks project is to provide a workable approach to nanotechnology employing biological organisms. Another, more longterm goal is to produce a synthetic living organism from standard parts that are completely understood.
Each BioBrick part is a DNA sequence held in a circular plasmid; the "payload" of the BioBrick part is flanked by universal and precisely defined upstream and downstream sequences which are technically not considered part of the BioBrick part. These sequences contain six restriction sites for specific restriction enzymes (at least two of which are isocaudomers), which allows for the simple creation of larger BioBrick parts by chaining together smaller ones in any desired order. In the process of chaining parts together, the restriction sites between the two parts are removed, allowing the use of those restriction enzymes without breaking the new, larger BioBrick apart. . To facilitate this assembly process, the BioBrick part itself may not contain any of these restriction sites.
There are three levels of BioBrick parts: "parts", "devices" and "systems". "Parts" are the building blocks and encode basic biological functions (such as encoding a certain protein, or providing a promoter to let RNA polymerase bind and initiate transcription of downstream sequences); "devices" are collections of parts that implement some human-defined function (such as producing a fluorescent protein whenever the environment contains a certain chemical); "systems" perform high-level tasks (such as oscillating between two colors at a predefined frequency).
Example BioBrick systems honored at previous iGEM competitions include:
Two measures for the performance of biological parts have been defined by Drew Endy's team: PoPS or Polymerase per second, the number of times a RNA polymerase passes by a certain DNA point per second; and RiPS or Ribosomal initiations per second, the number of times a ribosome passes a certain point on mRNA each second.