Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is an umbrella term that refers to powerful techniques for re-engineering the fundamental molecular structures of life, including genes, genomes, cells, and proteins. Some of the techniques being developed under this rubric enable the modification of existing bacteria to produce useful substances or perform new functions and the creation of novel artificial organisms, so far for research purposes. Synthetic biologists foresee a host of applications, including new methods for producing drugs, biofuels, and vaccines; diagnosing, preventing, and treating disease; and — far more controversially and far-off — synthesizing modified human genes to produce specified traits in future children and generations. Such eugenic visions raise concerns about social justice, human rights, and equality.

Environmentalists and populations near actual or proposed uses of synthetic biology products have voiced concerns about ecological and biosecurity risks. These are especially acute when synthetic biology techniques are combined with “gene drives,” which can enable the rapid spread of modified organisms through the natural population. At present, no comprehensive framework for assessment, oversight, and regulation of synthetic biology exists nationally or internationally.


Biopolitical Times

What might have been the story of the year turned out to be a disappointment. On February 14th, the National Academies delivered a valentine to those who want to commit germline gene editing. Its much anticipated report, Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance concluded that scientists should “proceed with caution.” This was the first time that human germline modification has ever been given a green light by a comparable body – the U.S. National Academies is an influential non-governmental...

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It seems hard to fathom that scientific progress has advanced to a point where it’s suddenly possible for people to undertake something as complicated as gene therapy outside the safety and confines of a well-funded lab, but it has. In...

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Josiah Zayner took a swig from his beer and squinted into the spotlight. He was already kind of drunk. He...

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Traditionally, most spying and intelligence gathering has been done by highly trained human operatives. But the US military has a...

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected T cell

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Biopolitical Times
A short-tail weasel peaks its head out of rocks.

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