Margaret Munro’s excellent article on Craig Venter’s recently published synthetic biology achievement provides some Canadian perspective on the field as a whole. Titled as Synthetic genome inspires both awe and apprehension in the Vancouver Sun’s (it was titled elsewise in other CanWest publications), May 21, 2010 edition, the article offers,
“It is a remarkable technological feat,” said University of Toronto bioengineer Elizabeth Edwards.
“It’s paradigm-shifting,” said University of Calgary bioethicist and biochemist Gregor Wolbring, adding the fast-moving field of synthetic biology is ushering in “cyber” cells and life.
It could be as “transformative” as the computer revolution, said Andrew Hessel, of the Pink Army Cooperative, an Albertabased initiative promoting doit-yourself bioengineering.
Hessel said Venter deserves the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in creating “a new branch on the evolutionary tree” — one where humans shape and control new species.
Munro also provides a strongly cautionary position from Pat Roy Mooney of the ETC Group (a civil society or, as I sometimes say, activist group) as well as a good explanation for what all the excitement is about.
Andrew Hessel’s Pink Army Cooperative can be found here. If you go, you will find that the organization’s aim is,
A new approach to developing breast cancer treatments. Pink Army is a community-driven, member owned Cooperative operating by open source principles. Using synthetic biology and virotherapy to bring individualized treatments tailored to each patient’s DNA and cancer, faster and cheaper than ever before.
The ETC Group has written a news release on this latest synthetic biology event,
As Craig Venter announces lab-made life, ETC Group calls for Global Moratorium on Synthetic Biology.
In a paper published today in the journal Science, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc announced the laboratory creation of the world’s first self-reproducing organism whose entire genome was built from scratch by a machine.(1) The construction of this synthetic organism, anticipated and dubbed “Synthia” by the ETC Group three years ago, will stir a firestorm of controversy over the ethics of building artificial life and the implications of the largely unknown field of synthetic biology.
As for the state of synthetic biology research in Canada, that might be available in an international agency’s publication. As far as I’m aware, there is no national research agency although I did (recently) find this mention on the National Institute of Nanotechnology’s Nano Life Sciences page,
The Nano Life Sciences researchers investigate the fields of synthetic biology, computational biology, protein structure, intermolecular membrane dynamics and microfluidics devices for biological analysis. [emphasis mine]
I will continue digging and come back to this topic (synthetic biology in Canada) as I find out more.