Synthetic Biology

Genetic engineering has been with humanity for longer than anyone can imagine. What is now becoming increasingly clear is that engineering new life forms will require more than mere manipulation of what we think we know about genes and the proteins they make. Life is never simple at any level from molecules to ecosystems.

A recent issue of The New Yorker carried an article, by Amia Srinivasan titled Busy Bodies; The Surprising Lives of Termites, that provided a paragraph about synthetic biology and attributed Jay D Keasling as a source and publication in the journal Cell. A full citation and link to a free PDF is noted below. Srinivasan is a professor of philosophy at Oxford. She certainly wrote a riveting article on entomology and stimulated exciting thoughts to move biology toward a greater view of life and the mechanical approach favored by most contemporary biologists.

Synthesis and analysis are co-inhabitors of the intellectual worlds that dominate human life wherever it lives on this planet. Engineering is certainly a dominating discipline and no one should be surprised that reaching into the realm of life is not excluded. What Srinivasan and Keasling’s colleagues have provided is a new way of looking at life from an engineering perspective. The new view is still very blured and it will take a major paradigm shift to assess our human potential for making life forms that more effectively serve both humanity and a planetary imperative to protect all of the systems that support life.

While colonizing the moon or Mars will likely require a grand scheme of engineering, there is much to learn about the lives we know on earth. It is clear that synthetic biology will help promote attention to research questions. .


Way, JC, James J. Collins, Jay D. Keasling and Pamela A. Silver. 2014. Integrating Biological Redesign: Where Synthetic Biology Came From and Where It Needs to Go. Cell. 157 March 27, 2014.