20 April 2016

Artificial Life: Playing God, Making Money (Science) – DRH014

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Episode 014 – Artificial Life: Playing God, Making Money (Science)

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You were waiting for it! The second part of the Artificial Life topic.

We received some emails where we were asked to delay a bit the second episode so that some listeners could research a bit more about the topic.

Of course your opinions are very important to us and our main objective is to make people gte interested in science and find out more by themselves therefore we delayed the topic until now.

But without any more delays, here its.

Just like in the first episode we start setting up the tpic by describing what is artificial life or alife. Then we move to define Synthetic Biology which is an interdisciplinary field of research at the intersection between life sciences and engineering. Several key enabling technologies have been critical to the emergence of the field over the past decade.

We couldn’t move on without mentioning the most famous innovator: Craig Venter. American biotechnologist, biochemist, geneticist, and entrepreneur. He is known for being one of the first to sequence the human genome and the first to transfect a cell with a synthetic genome.

This time we also go in more detail about his research where scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) have accomplished the next feat in synthetic biology research—the design and construction of the first minimal synthetic bacterial cell, JCVI-syn3.0.

The new minimal synthetic cell contains only 531,000 base pairs and just 473 genes making it the smallest genome of any self-replicating organism.

We mention some of the benefits of the Synthetic applications which include enzymes for biofuels.

  • environmental applications, such as detecting environmental contaminants using biosensors and removing such contaminants using specifically tailored plants or microorganisms;
  • health-related applications, such as diagnosing, monitoring, and responding to disease conditions in humans and animals and developing and manufacturing new drugs and vaccines;
  • industrial applications, such as employing plants, microorganisms, and specifically tailored enzymes for developing biofuels, as well as devising more efficient biomanufacturing and synthesis processes using chemical technology.

And about the risks:

  • the release into the environment of novel, genetically modified organisms—either accidentally or deliberately (e.g., for bioremediation)—potentially resulting in harmful consequences for ecological systems and/or human health;
  • the possible misuse of synthetic biology for bioterrorism—including the construction of modified or novel microorganisms with lethal or incapacitating effects. The synthesis of several pathogenic viruses from scratch, such as poliovirus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), has led to concerns that the current level of regulatory oversight is not commensurate with the risks;
  • the increasingly routine nature of many synthetic biology procedures, which makes them more readily accessible to those without specialized training;
  • the ability to recreate existing, extinct, or eradicated pathogens of humans, animals, or plants;
  • patenting strategies, potentially creating monopolies that could inhibit basic research and restrict product development to large companies;
  • trade and global justice issues, such as preventing the exploitation of indigenous resources by enabling the chemical synthesis of valuable products in industrial countries (e.g., the production of the antimalarial drug artemisinin in genetically engineered bacteria rather than extracting it from a plant source);
  • claims that synthetic biology is involved in creating artificial life, raising philosophical and religious concerns.

What other benefits and risks do you think we can face with Artificial life?

We also have a narration of  a very interesting story!

Links:

Books:

All books by J. Craig Venter

 

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