Synthetic Biology


Synthetic biology has been referred to as "extreme genetic engineering."  A collection of emerging techniques, it includes programing and writing DNA in new ways to create novel, self-replicating organisms.  

Stretches of human-made DNA may be ordered through the internet from genetic "foundries" and a "Registry of Standard Biological Parts."   Upon arrival, they may be mixed and matched.  In this manner, forms of life are created from genetic segments not previously in existence.  The new living entitles are referred to as biological "devices," "systems," or "machines."    

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (IGEM) Competition sponsors "jamborees" where teams of students who have genetically designed and created biological entities ("machines") may compete for prizes.  

Synthetic biology is inadequately regulated.  

How do you feel about teenagers genetically engineering biological organisms?

Do you think that synthetic biology requires greater public awareness and control?



Extreme Genetic Engineering:  An Introduction to Synthetic Biology


"Genetic engineering is passé. Today, scientists aren't just mapping genomes and manipulating genes, they're building life from scratch - and they're doing it in the absence of societal debate and regulatory oversight. Dubbed "genetic engineering on steroids,"the social, environmental and bio-weapons threats of synthetic biology surpass the possible dangers and abuses of biotech. Synbio is inspired by the convergence of nanoscale biology, computing and engineering. Using a laptop computer, published gene sequence information and mail-order synthetic DNA, just about anyone has the potential to construct genes or entire genomes from scratch (including those of lethal pathogens)." 

Friends of the Earth, "Synthetic Biology 101"

The New Biomassters:  Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods

AHB Comment Feds Approve Controversial Biotechnology

Open letter to President's Bioethics Commission from Fifty-Eight Civil Society Groups

"A Synthetic Biology Lab in Berkeley: is public health and safety being considered?," Jeremy Gruber, Tina Stevens, Becky McClain

Suggested Video:

Thomas offers an eloquent, incisive account of important social aspects of synthetic biology.  A "must see"

Other relevant videos:

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues: Synthetic Biology

The Precautionary  Principle:  
(running time: 1:44)

AHB QUERY:  Do you think that the Precautionary Principle should be a part of the framing of discussions concerning synthetic biology?  Why/why not? 

Click here for more on the Precautionary Principle

AHB QUERY:  What role do you think biotech patenting plays in driving the search for synthetic biology applications?  

Should scientific inquiry be driven so entirely by how it can translate into practical applications?  Why/why not?   

What are some implications of seeking primarily high-tech solutions to social needs?  

AHB QUERY:  Presently, there is little public discussion of human applications of synthetic biology.  Should it be discussed? 

Princeton University biologist Lee Silver's views on human genetic engineering more generally, below,  may be relevant to such consideration.  How would the Precautionary Principle apply to what Professor Silver seems to be advocating? 

 (running time for video:  9:02)