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About Synthetic Biology


"Synthetic biology" is an umbrella term that refers to a new set of powerful techniques for manipulating the fundamental molecular structures of life, including genes, genomes, cells and proteins. Techniques being developed under the "synthetic biology" rubric include the modification of existing bacteria to produce useful substances or perform new functions, the creation of novel artificial organisms from "scratch," and — less noted to date — the modification of animal and human genes.

Synthetic biologists foresee a host of human applications, including new methods to produce drugs, biofuels and vaccines; to diagnose, prevent and cure disease; and — far more controversially — to screen, select, and modify genes for specified traits in embryos, children, and adults. Nonetheless, the field remains in its early days, and separating hype from real potential remains difficult.

While diverse constituencies have voiced concerns about ecological and biosecurity risks, little attention has so far been called to the dangers connected to synthetic biology's human applications. Synthetically engineered viruses and pathogens and synthetic organisms released in the human body such as "tumor eating" bacteria, for example, pose profound dangers to human health.

Synthetic biology also presents dangers of a different kind if the field spawns forms of human genetic manipulation that heretofore have been impracticable. These include human reproductive cloning, the creation of "designer babies" through inheritable genetic modification, and other purported "enhancements." Leading figures in the synthetic biology field have in fact predicted, and in some cases embraced, such eugenic visions.

Such prospects raise concerns for social justice, human rights, and equality. However, at present, no comprehensive framework for assessment, oversight and regulation of synthetic biology exists nationally or internationally.


Should We Rewrite the Human Genome?by Alex HardingXconomyNovember 28th, 2016Conversations of such endeavors raise ethical concerns of oversight in its research and medical applications.
Obama’s Science Advisors Are Worried About Future CRISPR Terrorismby Daniel OberhausVICE MotherboardNovember 21st, 2016PCAST warn that under current legislation, there is no room for rapid response to threats and misuse, recommending improved biosurveillance as a solution.
The Field of Synthetic Biology Runs on Speculative Fictionby Jason KoeblerVICE MotherboardNovember 18th, 2016As technology advances and draws us closer to unknown dimensions that may parallel sci-fi worlds, conversations must be inclusive of voices beyond science and industry.
Synthetic human genome project releases its draft timelineby Ike SwelitzStat NewsOctober 28th, 2016HGP-Write rebrands itself suggesting broader visions to synthesize "all sorts of...genomes, not just humans," but issues of transparency loom.
Mouse eggs made from skin cells in a dishby David CyranoskiNatureOctober 17th, 2016A research breakthrough sparks debate over the prospect of using stem cell techniques to produce synthetic human eggs from body tissue.
Designer and Discarded Genomesby Ruha Benjamine-flux ArchitectureOctober 12th, 2016Field notes from a Harvard meeting on a "synthetic human genome" moonshot reveal the anti-democratic foundations of HGP-Write.
‘Motherless babies!’ How to create a tabloid science headline in five easy stepsby Gretchen VogelScience MagazineSeptember 14th, 2016Here's the recipe for transforming a modest developmental biology paper into a blockbuster story.
Passing My Disability On to My Childrenby Sheila BlackThe New York TimesSeptember 7th, 2016Drawing on hew own experience, the author challenges the logic of creating "designer babies" with screening or modifying technologies.
The Perils of Planned Extinctionsby Claire Hope CummingsProject SyndicateSeptember 6th, 2016Instead of taking time to fully consider the ethical, ecological, and social issues of gene-drive technology, many are aggressively promoting its use in conservation.
Another Scathing Report Causes More Eminent Heads to Roll in the Macchiarini Scandalby Gretchen VogelScience MagazineSeptember 6th, 2016Fallout continues from a scandal involving patient deaths after a surgeon implanted artificial tracheae seeded with stem cells.
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