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The Power of Two

Rhyme and Reason

Published July 1, 2014 11:27 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Everyone has heard the expression,” There is no rhyme or reason”, which simply means something is occurring without any reasonable explanation or purpose. But with all the recent chatter regarding synthetic biology, there appears to be is a definite rationale to this fairly new science.

Synthetic generally means that a substance is produced by an artificial process. Without a thought we can quickly name several man made items, such as synthetic rubber and clothing fibers. I have been hearing a lot lately about synthetic biology.

Upon further investigation synthetic biology is defined as the manipulation of cells, genes, genomes, and proteins to produce things like biofuels, medicines and vaccines. The possibilities are as diverse and probably endless.

Has synthetic engineering replaced genetic engineering? I do not think one has replaced the other as much as even though the terms are used interchangeably, genetic engineers deal with the gene circuit of the organism, whereas synthetic biologists take on a wider scope (i.e. living and nonliving) of activities. Synthetic engineering are applying this method to human applications. Another way to view the differences is that genetic engineers are focused on structure (i.e. DNA assembly); whereas synthetic engineers are focused on function (i.e. activities alter intended purpose).

There is rhyme and reason to the divergence of these two fields. And I must admit I like the synthetic side a lot. Synthetic biologists are looking at the possibilities of growing enhancing our world, with such projects as growing the fuel and habitat infrastructure. For example, there is a team of these engineering that are looking at combining the living biological to grow in-live real estate properties. How cool is that?

A word of caution is being voiced by these new wave biologists. They are quick to point out that the knowledge being gained through synthetic data can be harmful in the wrong hands. There is a concern of use in bioterrorism, accidental release environmental toxins, and unknown adverse long-term evolutionary outcomes. But regardless of the potential dangers, these scientists are also swift in high lightening the benefits of synthetic biology activities. That being said, this area is on a growth path.

posted by Eleanor Wolfram


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