Nature Biotechnology on Synthetic Biology

If you have any interest in synthetic biology, Nature Biotechnology has been kind enough to A) devote a special issue to the topic and B) make it available for free. I first learned about this on Rob Carlson’s Synthesis blog because he’s the author of an article on the economics of DNA synthesis (PDF).


I also recommend the survey by Lu, Khalil, and Collins: Next-generation synthetic gene networks (also PDF). Taken all together, the issue communicates a sense “We’re moving faster and faster” combined with “Jesus this stuff is complicated!” Commercial breakthroughs won’t come quickly, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the progress being made.

For an indication of where things are headed, look at the projects being built by student teams for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Browse through the abstracts here and remind yourself that these things (these organisms) are being built by undergraduates in a matter of months. The team from Valencia is building the Valencia Lighting Cell Display (iLCD):

We are making a “bio-screen” of voltage-activated cells, where every “cellular pixel” produces light. It is just like a bacterial photographic system, but it’s digital. Within seconds, instead of hours, you can get an image formed of living cells.

I recall doing much less impressive things with my college projects.

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