Is This Life?

Useful Construction

How to design a chassis for synthetic biological systems

Drew Endy is an assistantprofessor in the biologicalengineering division andcofounder of MassachusettsInstitute of Technology's syntheticbiology working group.

Creation implies an act that is based on some combinationof perfect knowledge, unlimited power, and infiniteresources. Gods create. Engineers on the other hand,from structural to electrical and now biological, arealways constrained by (1) an imperfect understandingof raw materials, (2) limited abilities to manipulate these materials,and (3) a budget. As a result, engineers construct. The art of engineeringis to reliably construct useful and beautiful artifacts despiteour limits.

In synthetic biology, there is now tremendous excitement aboutconstructing fully functioning...

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