Synthetic Biology

Learn about the field’s first genetic circuits and read forecasts by George M. Church and J. Craig Venter of a future where man-made organisms pump out novel fuels, drugs, and therapies.

Oct 1, 2011
J. Craig Venter, George M. Church, Jef Akst

Tinkering With Life

A decade’s worth of engineering-infused biologyIn the late 1990s, a handful of physicists and engineers began to take a greater interest in biology. The Human Genome Project was spitting out more and more gene sequences, but no one knew how all these genes and proteins worked together to create a living, breathing organism. . . .By Jef Akst



Opinion: Evolving Engineering

Exploiting the unique properties of living systems makes synthetic biologists better engineers.After 10 years of tinkering with biological circuits, we need to explain the rationale for doing synthetic biology. Despite the musings of some, the field is not limited to toy projects. Recent advances—such as a DNA nanostructure that fights cancer, and a new E. coli genome on its way to multivirus resistance—have demonstrated the discipline’s incredible potential. . . .By George M. Church

Opinion: Synthesizing Life

Designing genomes from scratch will be the next revolution in biology.DNA is the software of the cell, and our studies have shown that when we change the software we change the species. Because it is based on the digitized DNA sequence, the design of synthetic genomes provides a true interface between the computer and biological life. Genome design will dominate the future. . . .By J. Craig Venter

Infographic: Designing Genetic Circuits

Near the turn of the millennium, James Collins and Stanislas Leibler independently undertook rather similar projects: design what would become synthetic biology’s seminal genetic circuits. And they came up with strikingly similar action plans—use E. coli to pair promoters with repressors that control one another’s behavior. . . .By Jef Akst


Rewriting E. coli’s Genetic CodeResearchers use directed evolution to create a bacterial strain that substitutes a synthetic base for thymine.By Sabine Louët
Tailor-Made GenomeA method for rapidly replacing stop codons throughout the genetic code of E. coli paves the way for biomanufacturing designer proteins.By Tia Ghose
Garage InnovationThe potential costs of regulating synthetic biology must be counted against putative benefits.By Rob Carlson
Q&A: Ethics Chair On Synthetic BiologyThe Scientist speaks with the chair of a presidential bioethics commission, which decided this week that synthetic biology should not be too harshly regulated by the US government.By Jef Akst
Is the “Synthetic Cell” about Life?A bioethicist explores the soul of Venter’s new life form and of his experiment.By Gregory Kaebnick