Synthetic biology is still a new field — it was only a year ago that the world's first synthetic cell was created at the J. Craig Venter Institute. But while researchers in the field have the innovation needed to create new ideas and look at the creation of cells in a new way, says Technology Review's Katherine Bourzac, the expense and time it takes to get from idea to "engineered organism" is still holding them back. One of the biggest problems is gathering the starting materials needed to create a cell, Bourzac says. Creating DNA in the lab is time-consuming and takes a lot of money, and researchers say this can limit creativity. "Every time synthetic biologists try out a new design, they have to pay to get the DNA synthesized, wait for it to come back, get it into cells, and test it," Bourzac says. "All this, says [Harvard systems biology professor Pamela] Silver, means synthetic biologists are understandably reluctant to fail and learn from their failures." One day, experts say, it may be possible for a researcher to sit at a computer, design DNA, and have it a few hours later, but for that to happen, DNA synthesis needs to become cheaper, faster, more accessible and more accurate. Fortunately, Bourzac adds, the cost of DNA synthesis technology, much like DNA sequencing technology, is dropping fast.
Hand Me the Genome Wrench
Jun 23, 2011