Last month, synthetic biologists at Ginkgo Bioworks raised their glasses—filled with genetically modified beer—to celebrate the launch of a new automated lab. By applying engineering principles to biology, and with the help of some nifty robotic equipment, Ginkgo has created a factory for churning out exotic life-forms, the likes of which have never before been seen on this planet.
The home brew they were drinking was an example of the potential applications of synthetic biology, a new field that builds on recent progress in genetic assembly methods. Scientists can now manufacture snippets of synthetic DNA and slip them into organisms, giving those critters strange capabilities. For example, the brewer’s yeast used to make the beer for the launch party had genes from an orange tree added to its own DNA. During the fermentation stage of the brewing process, those genes caused the yeast to produce valencene, an organic compound with a citrusy flavor. Speaking scientifically, it was delicious.
Ginkgo Bioworks, a hip young company based in Boston, recently raised US $100 million on the promise of finding many such useful applications for synthetic biology. It used some of that cash to build Bioworks2,…[Read more]
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