Synthesizing biology

In what many are calling a landmark achievement, scientists have transplanted the genome from one species of bacteria into another. The bottom line? Such synthetic biology might be engineered to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to produce methane, a source of fuel.

One organization, LS9 Inc., has already produced laboratory amounts of petroleum-like fuels in bacteria.

Of course, the engineering of biology raises top line concerns as well, which are addressed - though surely not resolved - in the New York Times article:

[S]ynthetic biology is a technique with potentially far-reaching consequences like environmental effects and misappropriation by terrorists. In addition, the ability to synthesize living organisms may provoke philosophical comment.

Scientists have taken the initiative in assessing the effects with the hope of staying far enough ahead of events to avoid regulation. A report on the possible dangers of synthetic biology is being prepared for the Sloan Foundation by scientists at M.I.T., the Venter Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Dr. [J. Craig] Venter [the scientist who did the genome transplant] said that he was filing for many more patents and that his team was trying to scale up methods of synthesizing DNA and 'watermarking chromosomes in fun ways to make it unequivocal they are manmade.'

Wayne