Life Science

What’s synthetic biology?

A conversation with Richard Bonneau about engineering new microbes to solve our problems.

September 26, 2008

Last month, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies surveyed Americans to find out how much they really know about nanotechnology and synthetic biology, two of the hottest fields of research today.

Nanotech and synthetic biology may hold the answers to monumental challenges for people in America and around the world, from renewable energy sources to manufacturing life-saving drugs cheaply and reliably.

But last year, only six percent of Americans said they had “heard a lot” about nanotechnology. And this year’s poll marks the first time that Americans have been surveyed on synthetic biology. Results will be announced next week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, just how familiar are you?

I sat down with Richard Bonneau, a systems biologist at New York University, to go over some of the basics of synthetic biology, from potential applications of the technology to ethical quandaries. Check out the video above to find out more.

Bonneau is a systems biologist, so he doesn’t spend his time trying to make microbial factories for fuels and drugs like Amyris Biotechnologies, featured in the video. Instead, he spends a lot of his time on related work: studying the interacting networks of genes and proteins within tiny microbes, and mapping them out with sophisticated software. Read more about systems biology.

Also on Scienceline:

Synthetic biologist Craig Venter’s “genetic identity theft”

Could nanotech ease the world’s water problems?

Tough microbes go into battle mode.

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