The First Synthetic Lifeform
Here is Craig Venter announcing the successful self-replication of a cell with an entirely synthetic genome:
This is one of the biggest news stories of the year, and time will tell what its implications are. It has been extensively covered in the media, and will surely be a part of school ethics discussions for years to come.The full Science paper is online here.
Search for news stories and resources to help you answer these questions:
1. In what ways is this the first synthetic organism?
2. What were the success criteria for this organism?
3. What failsafes were put in place should the bacterium become widespread?
4. What are some of the potential applications of this new technology?
5. What are some of the ethical implications of synthetic biology? Identify stakeholders in the debate and outline their point of view.
Synthetic Biology – the man-made future?
Where’s the money in Biology? Probably where the future lies – genetics and synthetic biology.
As we learn more about genomes and the way different organisms (including pathogens) work, we can move towards creating targeted responses and DNA-level manipulation. Synthetic biologists take DNA and try to re-work it into a solution to a problem – by creating synthetic DNA, they hope to achieve control over the functions of the organism. They hope to generate alternative sources of fuel, targeted treatments and vaccines and many more applications.
Click on the image to the right to download a useful poster from SEED magazine.
BioBricks (company link) are a leading example of synthetic biology in action. Think of them like lego bricks or parts of standard computer code – you can take them and (theoretically) fit them into any genome. This is one of the wonders of DNA – base-pairings and the universality of the genetic code allow these researchers endless opportunities for tinkering and advancing science. Some BioBricks are ‘parts’, some are ‘devices’ and others are ‘systems’ – sections of code that increase in complexity and functionality.
There is an exciting world of information out there about this topic, and it’s well worth looking at if you think your future lies in biotechnology. It’s a discipline that pulls together Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Engineering and Programming, and the ways in are various. If you want to find out more about a career in synthetic biology, MIT are world-leaders in the field.
For a quick explanation of how synthetic biology works (and an interesting hardware/software analogy) watch the video from ScientificAmerican below:
You might also want to read ‘Prey’ by Michael Crichton for a bit of light holiday scare-mongering. Imagine ‘The Andromeda Strain‘ with nanoparticles.
And while we’re on the subject of Scientific American, you may as well check out their video channel on YouTube. It’s much like the NewScientist one.