Synthetic biology and viewing life not as ‘a mystery but as a machine’

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Credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

Imagine a future where synthetic jellyfish roam waterways looking for toxins to destroy, where eco-friendly plastics and fuels are harvested from vats of yeast, where viruses are programmed to be cancer killers, and electronic gadgets repair themselves like living organisms.

Welcome to the world of synthetic biology, or ‘synbio’, where possibilities are limited only by the imagination. Its practitioners don’t view life as a mystery but as a machine – one that can be designed to solve a slew of pressing global health, energy and environmental problems.

In 2010 [researcher Craig Venter’s] team created the world’s first synthetic life form – a replica of the cattle bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides.

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In 2016 he announced the answer to the meaning of life. It’s 473 – at least for M. mycoides. That’s the minimal number of genes the bacterium needs to survive

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A pared-down life form might serve as a chassis on which to build something useful to humankind. Bolt on the right handful of genes and you could have an ecologically friendly microbe factory to produce drugs or biofuels or artificial meat.

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Such ambitions might seem doomed in a world where people are terrified by far more modestly engineered organisms such as GM crops. But synthetic biologists are an optimistic lot. They are working hard to win society over with their vision of creating a smarter, greener, more sustainable world.

Read full, original post: Life 2.0: Inside the synthetic biology revolution

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