Synthetic biology is a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities. Synthetic biology researchers and companies around the world are harnessing the power of nature to solve problems in medicine, manufacturing and agriculture.
What can synthetic biology do?
Redesigning organisms so that they produce a substance, such as a medicine or fuel, or gain a new ability, such as sensing something in the environment, are common goals of synthetic biology projects. Some examples of what scientists are producing with synthetic biology are:
- Microorganisms harnessed for bioremediation to clean pollutants from our water, soil and air.
- Rice modified to produce beta-carotene, a nutrient usually associated with carrots, that prevents vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000 - 500,000 children every year and greatly increases a child's risk of death from infectious diseases.
- Yeast engineered to produce rose oil as an eco-friendly and sustainable substitute for real roses that perfumers use to make luxury scents.
What is the difference between synthetic biology and genome editing?
In some ways, synthetic biology is similar to another approach called "genome editing" because both involve changing an organism's genetic code; however, some people draw a distinction between these two approaches based on how that change is made. In synthetic biology, scientists typically stitch together long stretches of DNA and insert them into an organism's genome. These synthesized pieces of DNA could be genes that are found in other organisms or they could be entirely novel. In genome editing, scientists typically use tools to make smaller changes to the organism's own DNA. Genome editing tools can also be used to delete or add small stretches of DNA in the genome.
Last updated: August 14, 2019