Synthetic biology is the subject of a feature story in Scientific American. Happily, it’s being made available for free on their website: Synthetic Life. They get up close and personal with synthetic biology rock stars Ron Weiss (Princeton) and Drew Endy (MIT). The article has a good summary quote about synthetic biology.
This nascent field has three major goals: One, learn about life by building it, rather than by tearing it apart. Two, make genetic engineering worthy of its name–a discipline that continuously improves by standardizing its previous creations and recombining them to make new and more sophisticated systems. And three, stretch the boundaries of life and of machines until the two overlap to yield truly programmable organisms.
If you want to see what synthetic biology “looks like”, look at this project page for one of the MIT classes that’s designing an organism. It looks like a science fiction mishmash of electrical engineering and biology, but it’s a real DNA “circuit”.
I find this extremely exciting, but it doesn’t surprise me that it gives a lot of people the creeps. However you feel about it now, you’re going to have to get used to it, because it’s the leading edge of something really big. Sophocles once said that nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse. But he’s been dead for 2400 years, so how smart could he be?