Saturday, May 20, 2006

Synthetic Biology 2.0

I'm in Berkeley at Synthetic Biology 2.0. I was taking notes by hand, but I think it would be more fruitful to just make a bunch of posts in near-real time. If you're reading this between

Craig Venter is telling us about the incredible diversity of microbial life; a diversity that is ripe for inspiring new innovation and techniques. Knocking out individual elements of biological pathways with transposons "isn't gonna cut it" anymore, so Venter is working on rebuilding a genome in a manner that is more conducive to manipulation.

He says "Designer Viruses" are over a decade away.
Eukaryotic cells are a bit closer... perhaps within 2 years.

How do you make a self-assembling chromosome from little oligonucleotide fragments? D. radiodurans knows who... it can reassemble its genome within 20 hours after getting disintegrated by tons of radiation.

So, what do you do with a synthetic chromosome once you get it? Perhaps introduce it into a cell with liposomes. (Keep in mind how difficult / poorly understood bacterial transformation is.)

These are hard tasks, but there is great incentive to solving them: The societies of the world need energy, and our current sources won't last. We need to design organisms that take CO2 and make methane, biopolymers, sugars, & proteins... nowadays we *make* CO2 from burning oils.

Venter played us a little video clip from the Discovery Channel: " nano life has the potential to make new energy sources available... Craig's vision is to sail and sample...[ha ha]." He said that in the video clip he got to drive Shell's hydrogen minivan around the block after filling it up from the first hydrogen station in DC, and then they loaded it back onto the flatbed truck they had brought it in on and returned it to the lab; the tank was empty when they got there. The challenges are great.

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