Friday, October 10, 2014

Synthetic Biology: Its promises and curse

After much meandering in my career, I am finally starting to put together a project I can take with me in pursuit of my own appointment.  One thing that finally moved me to take this step is the possibilities that are offered by the capabilities of synthetic biology.  DNA production has gotten so cheap that you can get any gene you want to work with synthetically produced.  No more begging other researchers to send you plasmids of something you want to work with.  For the work I intend to do, this will allow me to express any protein I want to work with recombinantly and look at it in the manner I want to.

The increased affordability of synthetically produced biological macromolecules stands to greatly improve the productivity of scientists.  Cheaply produced RNA is probably next in line, which will make the the ability to transcribe and purify RNA a lost and obsolete art.  It will make it easier for scientists with no previous experience in RNA to work with it.

The curse of synthetic biology is the potential it can create for the production of bio-weapons, something that is a plot point in my book.  With the genome sequences of viruses out there, anybody can order a viral genome to work on and mutate.  While the technology isn't there to turn these viral genomes into infectious agents, that is rapidly changing, as outlined in this story about J. Craig Venter and his work creating synthetic life.

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