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

Last year we were reacquainted with two familiar ethical conundrums: the creation of human “replicants” and research using human embryos. In the newly released Blade Runner sequel, the replicants are again made at the behest of the powerful and privileged, renewing our fears of human cloning gone wrong. Earlier in the year, Harvard geneticist John Aach and his colleagues published a cautionary article in eLife about SHEEFs, a new kind of embryo-like construct using induced pluripotent stem cells.

SHEEF stands...

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A genetically modified (GM) rice product developed by a group of Chinese scientists has acquired the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, the first such Chinese product allowed to enter the US market.

However, neither China nor the US...

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In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the green light to a version of the plant Camelina sativa, an...

Biopolitical Times

What might have been the story of the year turned out to be a disappointment. On February 14th, the National...

A corn plant springs up from the soil.

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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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