Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Synthetic biology' holds promise, but vigilance needed

Far more promise than peril lurks in "synthetic biology," the emerging technology of man-made life, a presidential panel reports today. Aimed at providing humanity with cheaper drugs, fuel and food, the technology also carries with it fears of bioengineered super-plagues should one of these new life forms escape from the lab. In May, President Obama called for the panel report after researchers reported in the journal Science that they had inserted a man-made genetic blueprint into a bacteria, which then reproduced with the new genes. "It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," Obama wrote, requesting the report. Major players in the field such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, who headed the team behind the May study, have suggested that man-made microbes might someday produce synthetic gasoline. Others, such as Berkeley Lab's Jay Keasling, have led efforts to create microbes that make malaria drugs. More>