It seems that NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) is extending its reach and moving towards synthetic biology projects (as first noted in my July 9, 2015 post about the June/July 2015 Nano Bite). From their August 2015 newsletter,
→ Building with Biology
Between August and September, at eight pilot sites across the U.S., Building with Biology Activities and Conversations about Synthetic Biology events are taking place and bringing scientists and members of the public together to consider societal implications of this fast-growing field [view schedule of upcoming BwB events]. A free physical kit will be available to 200 sites nationwide to host a Building with Biology event of your own during the summer of 2016. Time to start thinking about scientists in your community to invite and engage with the public for these activities and conversations! Kit applications will open later this fall and will be due in early 2016.
Here’s a little more from Boston’s Museum of Science webpage dedicated to the Building with Biology pilot projects (Note: I have excerpted a list of events that have yet to take place from the more extensive listing of events),
The Building with Biology pilot events in the Summer of 2015 will bring scientists and members of the public together at 8 science centers and museums across the U.S. to consider societal implications of this fast-growing field. In the summer of 2016, these conversations will take place at 200 sites around the nation:
Getting back to the August 2015 issue of the newsletter,
Mars is a long way off – literally speaking – but the approximately 34 million miles between Earth and Mars isn’t deterring scientists from planning a mission to Mars. NASA estimates, depending on technology used, that travel to Mars will take about eight months, with astronauts spending anywhere between a few weeks to over a year on Mars before returning to Earth. Instead of packing and moving all the necessary living essentials, scientists are proposing the use of synthetic biological processes “to make extraterrestrial travel more practical and bearable.” For example, synthetic biology could be used to help reuse crew waste, to create fuel, to use microbes to sustain plant-based farming and engineering them to produce pharmaceuticals.
→ Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.
The gene-editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9 (the first term stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” which is a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 refers to the protein that makes it work), is a scientific breakthrough in genome editing, but is causing pause among some because of the ability to quickly and easily alter DNA that this technique provides. The applications of CRISPR are far ranging from agriculture to medicine, and has the potential to change the world, but the legality, ethics and societal implications remain less clearly defined. As one researcher notes, “You can’t stop science from progressing…Science gives people power. And power is unpredictable.”
The mention of Mars in the space exploration item reminded me of ‘The Martian’, an upcoming space exploration movie featuring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars. I’m not sure when it’s being released but they are very busy publicizing this movie, from an August 19, 2015 news item on Yahoo news,
Matt Damon has said he is in no hurry to travel into space, despite portraying astronauts in two movies in quick succession.
The Hollywood star played an astronaut left on an ice planet in Interstellar last year and will next be seen as a botanist left for dead on Mars in director Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian.
Matt, 44, plays Mark Watney, an astronaut abandoned on the planet after his crewmates think he has been killed in an accident. The film, an adaptation of the hit novel of the same name, follows his battle for survival and the attempts to bring him home.
“Drew Goddard adapted the screenplay and the first thing he said was, ‘I want this to be a love letter to science’, and that is a really wonderful thing to put out into the world. I don’t have any lofty expectations but I hope some kids see it and geek out on the science and enjoy it and it might be one thing of many in their life that pushes them in that direction.”
Ridley collaborated closely with American space agency Nasa [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to make the film as accurate as possible and Dr Jim Green, director of the planetary science division, believes it will have an inspirational effect.
“I really think that will happen, we are talking about the Mars generation. When we landed Curiosity on Mars we had the world’s attention and that is the inspiration that will propel our economy forward by bringing in the scientists and the engineers,” he said.
Dr Green added that the film gives a tantalising glimpse of what could soon be a reality.
“Science fiction is extremely important in our culture, it is engrained in what we do and it really projects a vision of the future and something we aspire to, and what I really enjoyed about the book and the movie is how close to reality it can be, it’s just around the corner for us.”
You can find the latest trailer for the movie embedded in the August 19, 2015 Yahoo news item.
Although I’ve focused on synthetic biology and Mars exploration, there are more items in the August 2015 Nano Bite newsletter, which you can read in its entirety here.