Synthetic Biology and Personal Genomics

We’ve been watching synthetic biology closely since Drew Endy keynoted on open source biology at OSCON back in 2005 (audio here). You might have caught Quinn Norton‘s series of posts on Drew and his work (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). It’s definitely hitting the mainstream, with the New York Times last month talking about synthetic bio and the J. Craig Venter institute’s work in assembling a new genome from scratch for a relatively simple (only half a million base pairs) bacterium. You can read more about the research on’s blog, the Institute’s press release about it, and the Science magazine paper.

The same forces that make synthetic biology possible also drive personal genomics (those forces are the lowered costs of materials and equipment so technology can trickle down from basic “wtf is this” research down to “ok, now let’s do something cool” work). Personal genomics is using your DNA to learn about an individual’s makeup and behaviour, e.g. 23 and Me. The two come together at ETech, where we have Pauline Ng from the J. Craig Venter Institute, who worked on the synthetic genome, talking about the benefits and risks of personal genomics. I’m looking forward to this one, not least because I figure that someone who has “played god” and constructed a synthetic genome probably has some good insights into dangers.