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Hype Hurts

The Chronicle of Higher Education features synthetic biology pioneer Jim Collins, who bemoans the fact that excessive hype has "hurt the field."

"Some in the community are hyping our capabilities well beyond where we're at," he says. "I think it's better to be a bit sober. I think it's fine to speak to emerging applications and emerging capabilities, but to really qualify where we are at and what we can do now, versus what might this field bring decades down the line."

The Chronicle notes that while Collins has dipped a toe into the commercial world by sitting on several scientific advisory boards, he has remained in academia while many of his colleagues left to join startups.

"Since 2004 investors have poured at least $1.84 billion into synthetic biology startups," the Chronicle says. However, most of those companies "have made grinding progress, not breakthroughs. Much potential remains to reinvent manufacturing and medicine, but the road is far longer than some imagined."

It's unfortunate that so many young scientists rushed into these companies, Collins says. "I think it would be better to have more of that talent staying in universities."

In the academic world, he adds, the field has made "nice progress."

While it may not have advanced as far as some had predicted or hoped, "I'm comfortable with the pace we've made. It's still a small field. We're at the very early stages."