Spider Goats

Synthetic Biology - Pick 'n MixGenetic engineering has been around for some time, but Horizon tonight showed that our abilities in synthetic biology have gone much further and we are even entering the realms of the amateur geneticist. From goats, genetically engineered to produce spider silk in their milk, to the ‘glow in the dark’ bacteria manufactured in a local US community centre, and even the first computer generated life-form, the potential for man to ‘play god’ has never been more real.

It is now possible to build ‘intelligent’ molecules via computer software. Molecules that are programmed to carry out specific tasks, opening up the possibility to introduce ‘magic bullets’ that will only target specific cells, such as cancers, from within our own bodies.

The science is amazing, both simple and complex at the same time, treating the building blocks of life, our very own DNA, a bit like a box of Lego. The applications are limitless, as broad and varied our imaginations can stretch, but with this power comes a huge responsibility. The whole science is being run in a similar manner to Open Source software, subject to peer review and overseen by organisations such as BioBricks.org.

It is both fascinating and a little scary. I intend to find out more about it, and maybe even create my own luminescent bacteria in my kitchen. As with all scientific advances, they can be used for good, or bad, but what is always needed is more than a little WCC.

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