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Synthetic Biology: Programming Life

synthetic biology

genetic manipulation

Biology is a subject most are familiar with through their studies in grade school however revolutions in the way biologists utilize the application of their knowledge of living systems can potentially change the course of humans as well as other species. One of the growing trends in biological studies involves the application of synthetic biology to alter the genetic function of simple organisms. Synthetic biologists have already begun a process of genetic manipulation to alter what bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms produce with a primary focus on the production of fuel sources and medicinal chemicals.

Before we explore this subject further, many may wonder; what is synthetic biology? Synthetic biology is a combination of biology, engineering and chemistry with a focus on using the processes of bioengineering to create a result useful for humanity. This combination of science and technology is currently being used for the treatment of diseases and in research towards energy production needs.

How can a living organism be altered by scientists?

genetic variation

Much like the technological revolution of the digital age through the use of binary language, biologists have discovered that genetic coding can be manipulated through a variety of methods. In fact this process is a naturally occurring and ongoing process for organisms through genetic variation and evolution. Through the use of genetic manipulation biologists have discovered that they can enhance natural genetic engineering and alter the function and production of organisms. These benefits are expected to impact developments in biofuels and medicine. Advanced research is even being used to reprogram the human immune system to fight diseases such as cancer which has already been tested in a small number of terminally ill patients with astounding results.

living organisms

Research being conducted out of UC Berkley in bioengineering has produced a pharmaceutical drug called artemsinin to combat malaria from a byproduct of yeast which is expected to be the first product synthesized from work in synthetic biology to reach a consumer market. Further research with engineering yeast is being conducted for the production of biofuels from microbes. New approaches are being devised to utilized an estimated billion tons of biomass which is currently considered to be waste materials along with producing “green” or “clean tech” alternatives to petroleum products. The integration of biofuels has been an ongoing process to accommodate the needs of the growing world population while enhancing the production of clean technology to a rate which is cost efficient for mass production.


Microbes are the leading focus of synthetic biology which is expected to achieve results in improving plant health and prevention of diseases to achieve a state of agricultural stability in the modern world with an ever growing human population. Despite the potential benefits in this type of research a debate continues to ensue about the ethics of manipulating living organisms to benefit the human species. Many believe that altering the evolutionary course of an organism through bioengineering can have dramatic effects in the future and is perceived as “playing God”. On the other side of these opinions some scientist point out that with the threat of climate change through human induced environment alterations needs dramatic measure to restore a suitable equilibrium to the compounding factors of the Earth’s changing climate.

Diagram of the Bioengineering Process


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