There’s been a recurring topic showing up in prominent news outlets that has been getting on my nerves. Well, not really on my nerves but something that I consider to be wrong and was hoping someone would make it stop or at least correct it.
Synthetic biology is great, I really like everything about it. I truly do. I had the privilege of meeting and seeing the work of some of the pioneers in this exciting new approach to genetic engineering last year at MIT.
I must emphasize something about these bioengineers. They are extremely smart, hard working, innovative and, did I say it? smart biological engineers!
So what is it that ticks me off about some of the synthetic biology related articles? It’s not the “Frankenstein” remarks, it’s not the bioterrorism worries and it’s not even the JC Venter veneration!
Nope, it’s the constant comparison between synthetic biology now and computer science in the mid-80′s.
This comparison just brings along a whole truck load of babble that I think is incorrect. Mentioning that synthetic biology makes engineering biology so easy you can do it in your garage as if putting together a new lego set. Stating that people are sequencing their own genomes in their closet as if it were something like baking a cake in your microwave.
These stories are either incomplete or incorrect. You choose. I think that the average reader is going to misinterpret these articles. It’s quite notorious by looking at the comments made on the online news articles.
No doubt that synthetic biology makes engineering biology easier but it’s not something you’ll be doing in your garage/kitchen/bedroom closet. At least not legally, or with much success. Besides, the people that seem to be championing such efforts are mostly graduate students in fields related to biological sciences, not your regular Make magazine reader or science buff.
I’m not against the DIYBio movement. I just don’t think it should be synonymous with “garage synthetic biology”, because it’s not. They have a ton of really interesting projects that I believe would make more sense to put effort into.
So yeah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In summary: Synthetic biology is
great awesome! But unlike Obama, it’s not your new bicylce.
[Photo: Alexander van Dijk]