A Discussion With George Church About His New Book Regenesis And Synthetic Biology

By Randall Mayes | November 4th 2012 11:32 AM

In a conversation at an expo at Duke University last week, an executive with Oracle and I discussed my new project on sustainability and synthetic biology. He curiously asked if I made monsters. Honestly, I was not aware that profession even existed.

Clearly, there is a need for more education on this emerging technology. Books on synthetic biology are rare. This is unfortunate. In order to fill that void, scientists and writers are providing the needed discussions to supplement the existing highly technical articles. In Rob Carlson’s Biology is Technology (2010), he argues biology has long been a technology. In Revolutions, released earlier this year, based on philosophical and historical discussions I argue that synthetic biology is the logical extension of genomics.

So, why is synthetic biology important? Many scientists believe an influenza pandemic is impending. We have an astronomical federal deficit; there are developing countries with fast growing populations with pollution and a carbon footprint to match. We have volatile energy markets and limited natural resources. These all provide concerns for future generations. Although climate change is inevitable based on historical precedent, in order to address the current social conditions and challenges, policy makers are sorting through potential short term and long term solutions to these challenges as well as new sources of economic development.

In October, Basic Books released Regenesis by Harvard Medical School Geneticist George Church and science writer Ed Regis. Their successful collaboration interestingly resulted from the pair having the same literary agent. In Regenesis the authors ask, “What should we do?” How can we balance economic growth and a sustainable environment? How can we outsmart viruses? In an attempt to answer these questions, Church and Regis argue that synthetic biology is an industrial revolution with the potential to change life as we know it and discuss its possibilities. Among these exciting possibilities are creating novel materials and biofuels, and providing a better understanding of evolution and complex diseases leading to new drugs and vaccines.

For me, reading Regenesis raised several questions. In order to better understand the barriers scientists face in their research, I posed these questions to George.

Read more: A Discussion With George Church About His New Book Regenesis And Synthetic Biology — Science 2.0.

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