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What is Synthetic Biology?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Scientists performing experiment on de-extinct species
Credit: Milton Muldrow, Future Bio

In the field of synthetic biology, scientists take inert chemicals and spin them into the code of life. That is, they can transform an inert powdery substance, and "print' entire gene sequences and even genomes, and not just existing ones, but novel genomes, and get them to perform in living organisms. Synthetic biology is as much defined by the tools it utilizes (DNA printing, DNA sequencing, genetic engineering, metabolic engineering, and directed evolution) as it is a well-defined field. It is also in part defined by the culture of the scientists, that is, their willingness to push boundaries, alter and manipulate life.

Synthetic biology is a field of engineering that deals with the design and construction of artificial biological systems. It covers a wide range of topics, from the design of new enzymes to the creation of entire artificial cells. Biologists have even devised a new genetic code, called XNA, that can hold vastly more information than traditional computers, providing the prospect of scientists engineering whole new types of organisms, and providing technologists with a greater ability to store even greater amounts of information in DNA. This field is called DNA computing and has the dramatic theoretical capability of being able to hold the entire world’s computer information in DNA and in the approximate space of a walk-in closet.

Synthetic biology is still in its early stages, but it has the potential to revolutionize many areas of science and technology. For example, synthetic biologists are working on ways to produce biofuels and other renewable energy sources, create new medicines and vaccines, and develop cheaper and more efficient methods for manufacturing industrial chemicals. In addition, synthetic biology could be used to create organisms that can clean up environmental contaminants or generate new materials with interesting properties.

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary field that combines the principles of engineering with the tools of molecular biology. Synthetic biologists aim to design and build artificial biological systems that can perform useful functions. To do this, they often use standard parts known as “biological building blocks.” These parts can be assembled into larger systems via a process known as “genetic engineering.”

Synthetic biology is a relatively new field, but it has already made significant progress. In 2010, synthetic biologists created the first artificial cell—a bacterium that was designed from scratch using chemical synthesis. This achievement demonstrated that it is possible to create living organisms from non-living materials. Since then, other synthetic biologists have built upon this work and created a variety of artificial cells and other organisms. There is also a field called de-extinction, which looks to revive extinct species. Projects to revive the extinct woolly mammoth, passenger pigeon, and thylacine are all underway.

Despite these advances, synthetic biology is still in its early stages. There are many challenges that need to be overcome before the full potential of this field can be realized. For example, researchers need to develop new ways to design biological systems and test them for safety. In addition, it will be important to find ways to control synthetic organisms once they are released into the environment.

Despite these challenges, synthetic biology holds great promise for the future. This field has the potential to revolutionize many areas of science and technology. With further research, synthetic biology could help us find new ways to produce energy, create new medicines, clean up the environment, and much more.

Learn more about how Synthetic Biology will change our culture and life itself via the Wondrium App:

Link to a Synthetic Biology course

Or listen to the audiobook on audible:

Link to a synthetic biology course


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