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Community effort leads to SBOL, a standard data format for synthetic biology

By Michal Galdzicki and Herbert Sauro

In a perspective published by Nature Biotechnology, a group of 32 authors affiliated with 19 institutions describes an ongoing effort to build a standard data format for synthetic biology.


The development of the Synthetic Biology Open Language started in April 2008 when a small group of synthetic biologists involved in software development projects realized that their tools needed access to specific data that could not be captured using existing bioinformatics standards. A series of biannual meetings along with a vibrant online community have been instrumental in enabling the community-driven specification of this standard.

Since 2008, there has been a rapid expansion of the number of software applications for synthetic biology. It is critical to avoid locking users into software silos corresponding to proprietary data format. SBOL makes it possible for users to freely move data between tools depending on their needs and the rapid evolution of the different software projects.

The success of the Systems Biology Markup Language (SBML) has been an inspiration for SBOL.

From its inception, SBOL has been supported by a several major companies who provide software packages for synthetic biologists, and a seed grant from Microsoft. Their active participation is critical to the future development of the standard.

More information about the ongoing efforts can be found at

The Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL) provides a community standard for communicating designs in synthetic biology, Nature Biotechnology 32, 545–550 (2014) doi:10.1038/nbt.2891

About the authors:

Michal Galdzicki, Senior Fellow at University of Washington, Seattle

Herbert Sauro, Associate Professor at University of Washington, Seattle



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