synthetic biology

¿What is Synthetic Biology? What’s behind this new hot technology? As far as I know it is applying engineering knowledge in building biological systems. But an image is worth a thousand words they say. And I’ve done a search in youtube looking for videos about Synthetic Biology. And it has yielded 42 hits.

Not all of them are useful, of course. To start with, we can watch the iGEM videos. The International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition is an annual (see this year contest webpage), worldwide competition that involves undergraduate and graduate students in synthetic biology.

This is the list of selected videos related to iGEM:

If there is a man who is the world leader of Synthetic Biology, this is the American biologist Graig Venter and his Craig Venter Institute and his company Syntethic Genomics, dedicated to using modified or synthetically produced microorganisms to produce the alternative fuels ethanol and hydrogen (see its corporate webpage) The company’s name is also the name of a field of Synthetic Biology. There are also a video from NBC News in which Venter talks about Synthetic Biology. More on the man, there is a two part video (first part, second part) where Venter justifies the creation of synthetic life for the human being own sake.

Despite the novelty of this new science and technology field, there is an International Conference on Synthetic Biology. I’ve watched videos about the second conference which took place on May 20-22, 2006, at University of California (UC) Berkeley:

The conference brought together a diverse group of participants from a variety of disciplines, including some of the world’s leaders in biological engineering, biochemistry, quantitative biology, biophysics, molecular and cellular biology, bioethics, policy and governance, and the biotech industry. A collaborative effort of Berkeley Lab, MIT, UC Berkeley, and UCSF, the conference sought to promote and guide the further, constructive development of the field.

In the USA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a five-year, $16 million grant to establish the multi-institute Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC, which will be located at UC Berkeley. The goal is to make the engineering of biology easier, less time-consuming and faster. You can watch the 2007 video about this news in “Science Today”, which is a UC/Berkeley news service.

One of the promises of Synthetic Biology is a solution to the energy massive production we need in the near future, now that the petroleum non-renewable and contaminant energy is going to an end. Jay Keasling, co-leader of Berkeley Lab’s Helios Project (a Future Energy Resources Initiative project), is a groundbreaking researcher in the new scientific field of synthetic biology. In Helios, he directs the biology program, incorporating a range of approaches to increasing the efficacy and economy of plants and cellulose-degrading microbes to make solar-based fuels. He is a UC Berkeley professor of Chemical and Bioengineering, and founder of Amyris Biotechnologies, a company that was honored as a Technology Pioneer for 2006 by the World Economic Forum. Keasling has succeeded in using synthetic biology to develop a yeast-based production scheme for precursors of the antimalarial drug artemisinin in work funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His talk about Renewable Energy from Synthetic Biology was presented June 4, 2007.


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