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Synthetic Biology

Pros and Cons

Synthetic biology presents a novel opportunity which allows us to manipulate and understand biological systems. Many of synthetic biology’s strengths and weaknesses are one and the same.

-Synthetic biology works on the principles of abstraction and modularity. While this is beneficial for reducing the depth of detail that need to be considered, it runs the risk of overlooking, or ignoring, important factors. Black-boxing biology is not as straight-forward as with other engineered fields.

-Synthetic biology increases the ease of genetic engineering. This widens the scope of people that are able to create synthetic systems. This will speed up the rate of creation of useful and interesting systems. However it also means that the projects which are created and who is leading this creation cannot be controlled. Even though synthetic biology will increase the ease of genetic engineering, it is unlikely that unskilled people will be able to create synthetic organisms as creation of transgenic organisms is still a tricky business, which even professionals in the field struggle with.

-This technology has the potential to solve many of the world’s problems. However, this will often require release of these organisms into the environment, which could have detrimental and unforeseen consequences on public health and the environment. Introduction of organisms, especially those with a selective advantage, could upset the balance of ecosystems and gene transfer may mean that synthetically genes are shared.

A huge benefit of L-forms is that they may only survive under particular conditions such as osmotically stable conditions. Bacillus which have been transformed with the L-form switch BioBrick will become L-forms when in an environment lacking xylose. It follows that unless the environment which Bacillus escapes into contains xylose then Bacillus will adopt L-form state. Therefore these Bacillus have an inbuilt killswitch. The l-form switch brick gives no obvious selective advantage. Hence L-forms, if they are somehow able to survive outside of the lab, would be unlikely to out-compete native organisms. Furthermore, genetic transfer of the recombinant DNA encoding for the L-form switch would offer no advantage. The L-form switch biobrick will allow easier gene shuffling which will help improve other iGEM projects through directed evolution.

Newcastle University The Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology Newcastle Biomedicine The School of Computing Science The School of Computing Science