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Synthetic biology has the power to cure — and kill. How will we use it?
The prospect of creating life in the laboratory is as fascinating as it is terrifying. Will we really be able to modify the genetic code of a living creature to mold it to our design? Will we be able to assemble different bits of living creatures to create a new one? The game of life A few years back, J. Craig Venter announced the creation of a living, self-reproducing bacterial cell with a DNA sequence produced in the laboratory. According to Laurie Garrett’s 2013 article for Foreign Affairs about this experiment, the creature “moved, ate, breathed, and replicated itself.” Garrett quotes from an older interview with Venter from 2009: “There’s not a single aspect of human life that doesn’t have the potential to be totally transformed by these technologies in the future.”
Biological weapons threat evolving, experts say
The threat from biological weapons use by nations or terrorists is entering an era of potentially heightened risk, but the dimensions of the danger are not yet clear, a panel of experts said Friday. The event took place at Rand Corp., and involved two top House Intelligence Committee Republicans from Ohio and a panel of half a dozen experts. Rep. Michael R. Turner, the committee’s ranking member, described Friday’s event as part of the committee’s effort to engage academia and think tanks. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a surgeon and an Army reservist, moderated the panel. Calibrating risk The panel sorted through conflicting impressions of the threat. It some ways, it has yet to manifest itself. Yet advances in technology appear to make biological weapons manufacturing know-how more widely accessible and the lethality of such agents potentially greater.
Scientists Created 'Living' Synthetic Cells by Harvesting Bacteria For Parts
Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK have taken a major step forward in synthetic biology by designing a system that performs several key functions of a living cell, including generating energy and expressing genes. Their artificially constructed cell even transformed from a sphere shape to a more natural amoeba-like shape over the first 48 hours of 'life', indicating that the proto-cytoskeletal filaments were working (or, as the researchers put it, were "structurally dynamic over extended time scales"). Building something that comes close to what we might think of as alive is no walk in the park, not least thanks to the fact even the simplest of organisms rely on countless biochemical operations involving mind-bendingly complex machinery to grow and replicate.
Animal-free ambition: Perfect Day partners with egg protein startup Onego Bio via nth Bio enterprise biology business
Perfect Day – which pioneered the production of ‘animal-free’ dairy proteins using microbes instead of cows – has announced a new brand identity for its enterprise biology business, nth Bio, and unveiled its first publicly-announced partner: Finnish startup Onego Bio, which makes egg proteins… without chickens.
Hacking Capitalism With Nature
Through bio-fabrication and synthetic biology, we can heal our planet while increasing economic vitality For too long, the advance of human civilization has been based in extraction. Our fuel, materials, food, basically everything we need has required digging, burning, and polluting. The industrial revolution brought humanity to a new epoch of growth and opportunity, but with severe ecological consequences that we'll be paying for over the foreseeable future. Coal, oil, steel — for all the benefits and progress these technologies have enabled, they are inherently unsustainable. The digital revolution allowed the explosive economic growth of the industrial era to carry on, making our processes more efficient by orders of magnitude. Now, we seem to be reaching the end of the digital S curve. But seemingly just in time, biology is offering another growth opportunity, not just to expand the economy, but to also bring it back into alignment with the planet.
Life brought to artificial cells
Global collaborations have made promising strides towards building artificial cells ‘bottom up’ from constituent parts1, but the current state-of-the art results are still far from resembling anything alive. The difficulty lies in organizing functional features, such as enzymes, at the nanoscale and ensuring network connectivity between all the components. Writing in Nature, Xu et al.2 report that they have tackled this challenge by organizing pieces of broken-down cells on a synthetic scaffold, thereby producing artificial cells with functional and compositional complexity reminiscent of living ones. The findings take us a step closer to life-like systems that could be used for industrial applications — and towards a better understanding of life itself.
Leading the whey: the synthetic milk startups shaking up the dairy industry
In 1931, Winston Churchill predicted the rise of animal-free food. Then an opposition MP in his wilderness years, Churchill wrote an essay that imagined life in 50 years’ time. “Synthetic food will, of course, be used in the future,” he wrote. The artificial stuff would “be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation,” Churchill wrote. “Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into proteins by which animals live, will be fostered and made to work under controlled conditions just as yeast is now.” Though several decades later than envisaged, Churchill’s prediction has been borne out by the development of lab-grown meat and, more recently, animal-free dairy products.
BEER SCIENCE: GENETICALLY MODIFIED YEAST FOUND TO PRODUCE BEER WITH INTENSE HOP AROMAS
BEER SCIENCHops generate both a beer’s taste and its aroma. And now researchers at Oregon State University have found that it’s possible to alter a beer’s aromatics using synthetic biology that doesn’t involve hops. Here’s the deal… Craft beer production in the US has grown exponentially over the last twenty years with hop-forward beer styles, such as India Pale Ales, leading that explosion. Defined their pungent flavors and aromas these IPAs are typically made using large amounts of aromatic hops, with the essential oils in hops being the main contributor to aromas in beers.
Could combining biotech and photosynthetic cyanobacteria help the energy crisis?
A group of researchers in Switzerland is using photosynthetic bacteria to generate energy. After implanting nanotubes into them, the bacteria can create energy. And when the cells divide, those nanotubes stay with subsequent generations. While there’s a long way to go, and may questions to be answered, Ardemis Boghossian at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences in Switzerland is looking to a potential future where bacteria generate electricity. Boghossian said while putting nanotubes in bacteria might not seem very exciting on the surface, it’s actually a big deal.
Biologists Use Genetic Circuits to Program Plant Roots
When the physicist Richard Feynman died in 1988, he left a note on his blackboard that read, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” Feynman may have been reflecting on the nature of scientific understanding, but the sentiment also reflects the spirit of synthetic biology. That scientific field is all about deconstructing and precisely manipulating biological processes to test our grasp of them. “Everyone in synthetic biology loves that quote,” said Patrick Shih, a synthetic plant biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s pretty much the central tenet.”