Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Synthetic Biology: A Revolutionary Technology

     Humanity is undergoing a technological revolution the likes of which has never been recorded in history. It is true that humanity has more to accomplish as well. There is no limit to what the human race can accomplish. It is only a matter of time before another paradigm shift is introduced to humanity which will enable the process of progress to accelerate even further.

A new science is emerging as scientists learn more about how the genomes of organisms operate. Instead of mastering the binary-code that is the basis of the technological revolution, scientists are learning how to master DNA. DNA is what the building blocks of life are made of. According to the forensic science expert, Professor Ian Shaw, "DNA is an enormous, complex molecule found in the nuclei of all cells in the body. It carries the genetic code and is responsible for passing information on from one generation to another."(1) Individual sections of DNA code for specific proteins. Proteins are required to build and repair body tissue. Proteins have other crucial functions in the body as well. Enzymes and hormones are proteins. Without DNA, which is the foundation of protein synthesis, humans would never exist on Earth.

Since DNA is such an important molecule, scientists in the field of synthetic biology have been working to unlock the potential of DNA for use in society. In May 2010, scientists were able to create the first bacteria strain from man-made DNA. According to Dan Vergano of USA TODAY, "The long-anticipated advance, reported in the Journal Science, is a $40 million milestone in the nascent field of 'synthetic biology' and points towards a future of designer microbes manufacturing fuels, chemicals and materials." (2) By manipulating DNA, scientists are able to essentially program organisms such as bacteria. In the future, scientists definitely will be able to program organisms to manufacture alternative fuels that will replace the fossil-fuels that is polluting the air everyone on Earth breaths.

     Speaking of alternative fuels, the study team that worked to create the first bacteria strain hopes to repeat its success in algae as a step to producing chemicals from engineered microbes. "This is not life from scratch" because  "[they] are taking advantage of 3 billion years of evolution to transplant a genome into a cell." (2) The possibilities that the engineering of DNA introduces is endless. It is only a matter of time that the field of synthetic biology leaves a large mark on human history.