Wednesday, 5 April 2017

What is Synthetic Biology?

As with any relatively newly emerging scientific field it is hard to find a definition that encompasses Synthetic biology, although in this case it may be particularly difficult. There are largely disparate research activities and fields united under its banner, although there are some principles. Broadly speaking, Synthetic Biology aims to apply engineering concepts to biology and construct new systems “de-novo”. The term Synthetic in this sense has a meaning of “synthesizing” or “putting together” in opposition to analysis. The field could more fittingly be described as “Intentionally Engineered Biology".

[Image Credit: Liang Zong and Yan Liang - MIT]

As with the emergence of Synthetic Chemistry and later Chemical Engineering in the 19th century Synthetic Biology, too will face challenges. And the same way Chemical Engineering changed how we view and understand nature, so will the study and creation of biological systems. Back then the ability to assemble organic molecules from their inorganic components changed the way large parts of nature were regarded, and now Synthetic Biology will allow us to change our understanding in a similar way.

Sources and Further Reading

Calvert J. Synthetic biology: Constructing nature? Sociol Rev. 2010;58:95-112.
Parry S, Dupré J. Introducing nature after the genome. Sociol Rev. 2010;58:3-16.
Carlson R. Synthetic biology 2.0, part IV :: What's in a name?. Updated 2006.

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