You thought genetically modified organisms could be dangerous? Hold on, because synthetic genetic engineering is taking it to a whole new level. It goes beyond inserting genes from one life into another by manufacturing DNA never imagined in nature—by creating synthetic DNA from non-living materials.
Synthetic genetic engineering – synthetic biology or SynBio – is, literally, the creation of synthetic life. It’s the manufacture of lifeforms or the modification of living organisms using non-biological materials. It’s a step beyond genetic engineering, in which the DNA from one organism is implanted into another. The DNA itself may be manufactured, literally created in a lab.
SynBio is, in fact, a combination of several technologies and types of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, nanotechnology, and engineering.
It’s also, in line with computer science, sometimes called bio-hacking, a term that evokes much of what it’s about. The purpose is to decrypt the biological code so that it can be redirected to other uses—a bit like breaking into a computer, taking control of its processor, and giving it directions to do something different from its original purpose.
In Climate Connections, Jeff Conant describes it like this:
Synthetic DNA is used to fabricate biological building blocks – often called “BioBrick” – capable of being combined in many different ways. “Parts” are assembled into “circuits” which are inserted into a “chassis” to create designer microbial factories that can be “booted up” to manufacture proteins or detect molecules that nature herself may never have dreamed up.SynBio is the act of treating life as if it were simply a form of mechanical object.