“Synthetic biology has no problem building bridges between biology and engineering, the natural and unnatural,” writes Kenrick Vezina of the Genetic Literacy Project, and today’s news roundup focuses on the ever-shifting boundary between life as we know it and life as we perpetually reimagine it.
As biological advances have extended our ability to treat diverse maladies and the physical sciences have enhanced our reach into both the cosmic and the microscopic, combining techniques from physics and biology offers new potential ways to repair our bodies and the environment. Nature magazine recently published a special feature on synthetic biology, with editorials and news on the state of this multidisciplinary field. Anyone with an interest in the future of biological engineering will want to check it out. Of course, not everyone is thrilled about genetic modification; Vermont recently became the first state to issue mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Another item that caught our attention and has generated much discussion online is a study where scientists in California created bacteria with an expanded genetic alphabet—this novel microbe was not just built with the standard A,C,T, and G of normal DNA, but incorporated a whole new set of base pairs into its genetic structure. “The newly expanded genetic alphabet… should yield a vastly more diverse menu of proteins with a wide variety of new chemical functions, such as medicines better able to survive in the body and protein-based materials that assemble themselves.”
Finally, author and poet Kathleen Housely draws from multiple sources to write an insightful critique in The Christian Century about the pressures and pitfalls of the modern scientific process.