Sunday, 11 April 2010

Is xenobiology becoming a reality?

One of the goals in synthetic biology is to design an orthogonal chromosome different from DNA and RNA, termed XNA for xeno nucleic acids. Xenobiological systems like XNA are ‘‘invisible’’ to natural biological systems, which means they could be the ultimate biosafety tool.

Read more about it in the recently published Open Access Paper:
Schmidt M. 2010. Xenobiology: A new form of life as the ultimate biosafety tool. BioEssays Vol.32(4): 322-331

For further information see also:

Synbiosafe Trailer from Camillo on Vimeo.

You can guess that I just couldn't resist moving to this topic after referring to the xenomorphs from the Alien series in the previous post. In this case engineering dictates that, unlike the science fiction, there is no evolution through interaction (i.e. using other lifeforms as "hosts") with the "natural" environment. But what to make of this piece of understatement from Schmidt's article?: "is it necessary to prohibit any activities that actively try to undermine the specifications mentioned above? i.e. similar to prohibiting R & D that aims at developing new offensive bioweapons?" Gee Markus, what do you think? Why the rhetorical stance? Cat got your tongue?

Make no mistake about it then, this debate will assume increasing importance. If the precautionary principle of post-normal science prominently features at this stage, how difficult will it be to maintain given the amounts of money needed to fund it into the future? Compromises might be introduced sooner than we would like (a potential for military applications will be only one facet of this). "Bring on more debate", is what I say.

Synthetic Biology

the technoscience and its societal consequences

Schmidt, M.; Kelle, A.; Ganguli-Mitra, A.; Vriend, H. (Eds.)

2010, VIII, 186 p., Hardcover

ISBN: 978-90-481-2677-4

Usually dispatched within 3 to 5 business days

119,95 €
  • About this book

Synthetic biology is becoming one of the most dynamic new fields of biology, with the potential to revolutionize the way we do biotechnology today. By applying the toolbox of engineering disciplines to biology, a whole set of potential applications become possible ranging very widely across scientific and engineering disciplines. Some of the potential benefits of synthetic biology, such as the development of low-cost drugs or the production of chemicals and energy by engineered bacteria are enormous. There are, however, also potential and perceived risks due to deliberate or accidental damage. Also, ethical issues of synthetic biology just start being explored, with hardly any ethicists specifically focusing on the area of synthetic biology. This book will be the first of its kind focusing particularly on the safety, security and ethical concerns and other relevant societal aspects of this new emerging field. The foreseen impact of this book will be to stimulate a debate on these societal issues at an early stage. Past experiences, especially in the field of GM-crops and stem cells, have shown the importance of an early societal debate. The community and informed stakeholders recognize this need, but up to now discussions are fragmentary. This book will be the first comprehensive overview on relevant societal issues of synthetic biology, setting the scene for further important discussions within the scientific community and with civil society.

Content Level » Research

Related subjects » Biomedical Sciences - Biotechnology - Medicine - Production & Process Engineering - R&D / Technology Policy

Table of Contents

1. Introduction, Markus Schmidt; 2. That Was the Synthetic Biology That Was, Luis Campos; 3. An Introduction to Synthetic Biology, Carolyn M.C. Lam, Miguel Godinho, Vítor A.P. Martins dos Santos; 4. Computational Design in Synthetic Biology, Maria Suarez, Guillermo Rodrigo, Javier Carrera, Alfonso Jaramillo; 5. The Ethics of Synthetic Biology, Anna Deplazes, Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra, Nikola Biller-Andorno; 6. Do I understand what I can create?, Markus Schmidt; 7. Security Issues Related to Synthetic Biology, Alexander Kelle; 8. The Intellectual Commons and Property in Synthetic Biology, Kenneth A. Oye, Rachel Wellhausen; 9. Governing Synthetic Biology: processes and outcomes, Joyce Tait; 10. Synthetic Biology and the Role of Civil Society Organisatons, Dirk Stemerding, Huib de Vriend, Bart Walhout, Rinie van Est; 11. Summary and Calculations, Alexander Kelle; Index

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