A group of health science majors at the University of Calgary are conducting a survey on synthetic biology. They are interested in finding out how much people know or don't know about synthetic biology and its ethical implications. Their results will be presented at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, known as iGEM, which takes place at MIT in November. The University of Calgary team will be one of the few presentors focusing on the ethical aspects of synthetic biology at this event.
Take the Survey!
Note: The survey begins with information about the project and a consent form.
Related: Listen to the Science Friday Podcast about the ethics of synthetic biology.
Scientists have been manipulating the genetic code for many years, beginning in 1973 when e.coli bacteria was inserted with a frog gene, creating the first recombinant DNA organism. Since then many bacteria, plants, and animals have been genetically modified. Crops have been inserted with pesticide-producing genes to increase product yield. Fish and rabbits have been inserted with genes from jellyfish and coral to make them glow for purely aesthetic purposes.
The level of genetic modification is about to get much more intense and complex. Scientists are now able to manipulate genetic material like never before because of advances in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics. Combining these technologies has led some scientists to attempt to create life from scratch or re-design existing life. This is called Synthetic Biology, or SynBio.
Over 66 companies worldwide are conducting SynBio experiments or selling manufactured pieces of DNA.
One company, headed by J. Craig Venter, has already applied for a patent on the basic building blocks for the first synthetically created bacteria. Venter aims to create and own the first fuelproducing organism, which has the potential to make him billions of dollars.