Andrew Hessel hopes that an open source approach in pharmacology will produce safe, effective, and individually personalized medicines quickly and inexpensively. Hessel likens the exponential advances in synthetic biology to the boom in the electronics industry.
One big difference, though, is that biological manufacuring does not require expensive refining, huge factories, or expensive tools. Biological organisms are alive and can self assemble complex structures from basic ingredients.
Foundational work, including the standardization of DNA-encoded parts and devices, enables them to be combined to create programs to control cells.
- Cells are being engineered to consume agricultural products and produce liquid fuels.
- Bacteria and yeast can be re-engineered for the low cost production of drugs. (Artemisinin, Lipitor)
- Bacteria and T-cells can be rewired to circulate in the body and identify and treat diseased cells and tissues. BioBricks.org
Eric Fernandez has a blog for do-it-yourself types like 23-year-old Kay Aull who set up a do it yourself DNA lab for genotyping her GFE gene in her closet! Be sure to check the archives for more than a hundred informative DIY Bio posts like this one by Make's, Mac Cowell.
Costs are coming down fast and genetic synthesis or gene fabrication is a cottage industry. Biofabs like GeneArt, Blue Heron, DNA2.0, and Codon Devices can deliver a synthesized product from an e-mailed description almost over night. Synthetic biologists envision writing the DNA code for such products the way computer programmers write software.
The Registry of Standard Biological Parts is a continuously growing collection of genetic parts that can be mixed and matched to build synthetic biology devices and systems. Founded in 2003 at MIT, the Registry is part of the Synthetic Biology community's efforts to make biology easier to engineer. It provides a resource of available genetic parts to iGEM teams and academic labs.
The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Teams participating and over 1200 participants will all specify, design, build, and test simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable biological parts. If you go to this iGEM results page you will find video links for the winning presentations. You can read team abstracts of the iGEM projects here.