Archive for the ‘S is for Synthetic Biology’ Category

Presidential Commission Panel on Synthetic Biology

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Joel Kulper

At the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues attendees assessed the risks and benefits of synthetic biology. Advocates heralded the field’s shiny prospects for health and commerce while others cautioned against environmental hazards and potential widening of socioeconomic gaps.

Proponents included: Craig Venter, American biologist and founder of J. Craig Venter Institute who is known for sequencing the human genome; Drew Endy, synthetic biologist, assistant professor at Stanford University and leading enabler of open source biotechnology; Chemical engineer Kristala Prather, head of Prather Research Group @ MIT; and George Church, molecular geneticist who initiated the Personal Genome Project and founded the personal genomic company, Knome.

Concerned bioethicists and scientists included: Allison Snow from the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University; Technology historian Jim Thomas; Greg Kaebnick, Research Scholar at The Hastings Center and editor of the Hastings Center Report; and Allen Buchanan, professor of philosophy at Duke University.

According to Bioethics.org, the Commission is requesting public input until September 1st and their report on SynBio recommendations and implications is due on Obama’s desk in November of this year.

via Biopolitical Times, the weblog of the Center for Genetics and Society

DNA Manufacturing

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Photo via flickr by net_efekt

Ginkgo BioWorks, a new synthetic-biology startup, aims to make biological engineering easier than baking bread. Founded by five MIT scientists, the company offers to assemble biological parts—such as strings of specific genes—for industry and academic scientists.

While companies already exist to synthesize pieces of DNA, Ginkgo assembles synthesized pieces of DNA to create functional genetic pathways.

“Think of it as rapid prototyping in biology—we make the part, test it, and then expand on it,” says Reshma Shetty, one of the company’s co-founders. Assembling specific genes into long pieces of DNA is much cheaper than synthesizing that long piece from scratch. For example, a very simple project, such as assembling two pieces of DNA, might cost $100, with prices increasing from there.

via Technology Review

In an interview with Sputnik Observatory, theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson discussed the possibilities of designing with DNA:

Every biochemical lab has these machines that you just press the buttons and you make a piece of DNA according to whatever particular sequence you want. Then you run it through the PCR and you have a trillion molecules of that kind. Then you can manipulate those, clone them into a bacterium or whatever you want to do. So you have a colony of bacteria carrying this particular stretch of DNA that you want. They will then manufacture the proteins that you can design yourself. So that’s what makes it so promising – that you can start at the bottom with a single molecule and produce a whole colony of bugs doing whatever chemistry you want them to do. It looks like the right way to go. It’s certainly a lot easier than trying to make tiny little tools and mechanically construct things. You’re using God’s technology rather than ours.

S is for Synthetic Biology

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

It used to be that children imagined unicorns and wished for ponies, but tomorrow children will be able to design and grow their own polka-dotted dinosaur at home. So predicts one of the world’s most fascinating minds, scientist Freeman Dyson, who sees the future of biotech as an art, not a science, and suggests that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives the same way personal computers have today. Despite concerns that genetic engineering is a risky proposition, the reality is that gene trading has been going on in the natural world for millions of years. In fact, every time you mate with someone, that’s genetic engineering. Every time you catch a cold, you’re actually acquiring a foreign genome. As science begins to understand the molecular biology of life more and more, essentially there will be no limitations, and biotechnology will be used for every single purpose imaginable, ranging from new materials to novel foods. Considering that the aim of synthetic biology is to create life from scratch, or modify existing living organisms, the contemporary stance, of course, is to view the era of open source biology as an humanitarian effort as well as an aesthetic pursuit. However, the question remains: What happens when these creatures grow and evolve on their own?