Are you interested in getting a heads up about the new technology that could facilitate the next industrial revolution? If the answer is yes, go ahead and read the following beginner's guide to Synthetic Biology.
Synthetic biology is a new and exciting field of research and technology at the interface of biological sciences and engineering. It aims at developing tools and methodologies that enable the rational designing or reconfiguration of biological organisms for useful purposes. Its impact is expected to reform industries spanning from health and pharmaceuticals, to energy and the environment, the production of chemicals and materials, as well as food and agriculture.
At the heart of this revolutionary technology lies our newly acquired abilities to read, write and edit DNA sequences and thereby designing algorithmic "software" programs that are "run" by living cells. What distinguishes Synthetic Biology from the traditional biotechnology is the strong influence from engineering. The incorporated engineering principles provide the theoretical framework that allows the designing and implementation of genetic programs of an exponentially increasing complexity and functionality. The teaming up of molecular biologists with software coders and electrical engineers has led to notable achievements in the field such as cancer tumour seeking and killing bacteria, biocomputers run by biochemical logic gates, industrial level production of an anti-malarial drug and bioethanol from carbon dioxide and the first synthetic living organism that has its DNA designed on a computer in its entirety!
If any of the above has got you excited for this game changing technology but it feels that you may have missed out don't be! And here is why. A very strong influence to the field of Synthetic Biology is the annual iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition that takes place at MIT (think equivalent of hackathons). This annual competition attracts aspiring DNA hackers from all around the world and serves as the teaching ground for new SynBio talents and breeding area for new ideas in the field. Having served as the project manager of the Grand Prize Award winning Imperial College 2016 iGEM ( project's website and captivating video intro) I deeply appreciate that the project's success stemmed from the merging of ideas not only from biologists and engineers but also from artists and social scientists. So whatever your background is, whether that is product designer or mechanical engineer, look for your local iGEM team (or be the nucleus -pun intended- behind forming a new one) to become the driving force that will shape the future of our world.