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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.


Synthetic Biology Is What, Exactly?by Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesOctober 1st, 2014The European Commission is the latest body to struggle with defining the term synthetic biology, and has produced a 65-page report.
If Synthetic Biology Lets us Play God, we Need RulesZócalo Public SquareSeptember 23rd, 2014Soon we could be able to program DNA with the same ease we program computers. What new responsibilities will be imposed on us?
A New Generation of GMOsby Josie GarthwaiteEnsiaSeptember 18th, 2014Is synthetic biology on its way to our farms, markets and tables?
Drew Endy's Hollywood Dreams for Synthetic Biologyby Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesSeptember 18th, 2014Stanford professor Drew Endy is convinced that this is the century of biology, and in particular of making things with biology, but is concerned that popular media do not seem to reflect this.
If We Create Life, Who Will Control It?by Marcelo GleiserNPRSeptember 17th, 2014It is the world of the future, and we must have some control over where it's going. But how?
On the Irreversibility of Gene Drivesby Noam PrywesThe ScientistSeptember 16th, 2014Should researchers genetically modify wild populations of mosquitoes to curb vector-borne diseases like malaria?
“Evolution right now is in the marketplace”by Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesSeptember 11th, 2014George Church is as outrageous as ever, while both transhumanist ideas and concerns about increasing inequality are receiving more attention.
Body Upgrades may be Nearing Reality, but Only for the Richby Ian SampleThe GuardianSeptember 5th, 2014Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari says expensive human enhancements will lead to a society more unequal than ever.
On the Horns of the GMO Dilemmaby Antonio RegaladoMIT Technology ReviewSeptember 2nd, 2014Can genome-editing technology revive the idea of genetically modified livestock?
Synthetic biology goes for scaleby Joanna GlasnerReutersSeptember 2nd, 2014Synthetic biology, which uses engineered gene sequences to create new biological systems and devices, used to be a subject for futurists and sci-fi writers, but now is attracting large investments.
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