Pete Shanks, January 22nd, 2010
Nature has proclaimed the tenth anniversary of Synthetic Biology, dating the field conveniently to two papers they published on January 20, 2000. The magazine celebrates the moment with a "web focus" that gathers 22 papers (some with free access), plus a podcast and a video. There is also a link to Nature Biotechnology, which has more free articles, including 20 experts trying to define the term, and often disagreeing.
The Nature Editorial admits that "some strands of synthetic biology are media friendly and run the risk of hype" and that "bringing these applications to reality has proved much harder than was originally hoped." An accompanying survey article is titled "Five hard truths for synthetic biology" and presents a sober view of the field, concluding doubtfully:
As the cost of DNA synthesis continues to drop and more people begin to tinker with biological parts, the field could progress faster, says [Rob] Carlson [of Biodesic]. "It's a question of whether the complexity of biology yields to that kind of an effort."
The National Science Foundation has just announced that it is putting up $1.4 million in seed money for just such an attempt. The new BIOFAB (International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology) is joint effort by several of the major players in the field, including Adam Arkin, Drew Endy and Jay Keasling. The idea is to build on the more amateur efforts of the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition and the BioBricks Foundation (BBF) that have been running for several years.
The bioethical debate about Synthetic Biology (whose common abbreviation Nigel Cameron has noted is an unfortunate homonym of "SinBio") is barely started. There are worrying signs that the principals don't take it seriously enough, especially the ever-quotable Endy. He has said, "the questions of playing God or not are so superficial and embarrassingly simple that they're not going to be useful." (This in itself is a statement of limited value.) These developments certainly bear watching -- and discussing.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
- Synthetic Biology, Drew Endy, and the Building of a Better Human from the Ground Up
- New Report on Synthetic Biology
- Synthetic Biology Hackers Announce "Self-Imposed Moratorium"
- Synthetic Biology Debate
Etiquetas: Synthetic Biology