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'A New Industrial Revolution'

Advances in synthetic biology and genetic engineering have led to some interesting "creations," says science writer Adam Rutherford in the Guardian. At Utah State University, researchers have successfully engineered a goat to produce spider silk in great quantities.

Synthetic biology, Rutherford says, is the next step for this kind of genetic tinkering. In 2010, Craig Venter announced his team had created the world's first synthetic life form — Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn 1.0 — a bacterium whose parts researchers inserted for a specific purpose. "To say that he had 'created life' is a stretch that Venter — a master of PR as well as an accomplished scientist — allowed to foment, and the press lapped up. It's more accurate to say that he rebooted life, his aim being to create a living template on to which new genetic functions could be built," Rutherford says. "Nevertheless, it remains an astonishing technical achievement, showing our dominance over DNA; not only can we modify one or two genes, we can make enough to power up a living thing."

Some researchers in the field say their work is a logical extension of computer programming. But biological programming is more complicated, Rutherford says. From biofuels to cancer treatments, the research has a lot of possible applications. "Synthetic biology has the potential to generate a new industrial revolution," he adds. "Welcome to the future."

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