In the scientific discipline of synthetic biology, organisms are redesigned for practical uses by being given new skills. Researchers and businesses working in synthetic biology are using nature's strength to tackle issues in agriculture, manufacturing, and medicine.
What does synthetic biology do?
Common objectives of synthetic biology projects include redesigning organisms to create a chemical, such as a drug or fuel, or to acquire a new capability, such as the ability to sense something in the environment. Here are a few examples of what researchers are creating with synthetic biology:
- Microorganisms harnessed for bioremediation to clean pollutants from our water, soil and air.
- Rice modified to produce beta-carotene, a nutrient usually associated with carrots, that prevents vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000 - 500,000 children every year and greatly increases a child's risk of death from infectious diseases.
- Yeast engineered to produce rose oil as an eco-friendly and sustainable substitute for real roses that perfumers use to make luxury scents.
What is the difference between synthetic biology and genome editing?
Synthetic biology and another method known as "genome editing" both require altering an organism's genetic code, although some individuals distinguish between the two methods based on how that alteration is accomplished. In synthetic biology, large segments of DNA are often pieced together and inserted into the genome of an organism. These synthetic DNA strands may contain genes that are already present in other creatures or they may be completely new. In genome editing, tools are often used to make more minor alterations to the organism's DNA. Smaller regions of DNA in the genome can also be added or removed using techniques for genome editing.
Can the entire genome of an organism be synthesized?
Can the entire genome of an organism be synthesized? Yes, that is the answer, and it has already been carried out. American researchers created a viral genome for the first time in 2002. Compared to the genomes of the majority of bacteria and microorganisms, viral genomes are considerably smaller. Scientists demonstrated that the polio virus could be created from scratch and raised awareness of the danger that synthetic biology may be exploited to build biological weapons. Even though this study team didn't mean to hurt anyone, worries about bad actors using synthetic biology for evil ends were appropriately raised by their findings.
In 2008, the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasm genitalium, which may lead to genital and urinary tract infections in people, was successfully synthesized. Another team of researchers partially synthesized the genome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used to produce wine and beer as well as bake bread, in 2017.
To further our understanding of how genomes function, researchers are currently expanding the capabilities of currently available DNA manufacturing technology. In 2003, scientists working on the Human Genome Project (HGP) sequenced, or "read", the more than 3 billion DNA letters, or base pairs, that make up the human genome. One group of researchers, called the "Genome Project-Write" (GP-Write)", is seeking to synthesize, or "write" whole genomes from human cell lines and the genomes of other plants and animals important to agriculture and public health.
What moral and societal repercussions result?
Whole genome synthesis projects present significant ethical issues about potential negative and positive effects on society. The ethical debates surrounding genome editing and synthetic biology share a lot of similarities. By using synthetic biology tools to redesign creatures, are humans transgressing moral boundaries? Who in our society will have access to new medicines and cures for diseases if synthetic biology produces them? What effects does bringing modified species into the ecosystem have on the environment? Since the beginning of the HGP, such ethical issues have been studied, and their study will continue as technology develops and changes. The majority of scientists, ethicists, and policymakers concur that in order to address these issues, entire communities must engage in dialogue about and balance the possible advantages and disadvantages of synthetic biology. Leading figures in bioethics have emphasized the value of public participation and dialogue in the regulation of developing synthetic biology and genome editing technologies, including the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Synthetic biology also raises biosecurity issues, as the creation of the polio virus has shown. The Federal Select Agents Program of the US government governs the use of high-risk infectious agents, such as polio, for research and other purposes. Additionally, federally funded research that uses high-risk infectious agents, such as that supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is subject to extra scrutiny and risk management as outlined by the Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)policy. Visit this website to learn more about the biosecurity procedures the NIH has in place. To regulate the commercialization of items derived from synthetic biology, the federal government has a framework in place called the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology.