Synthetic biology is one of the 21st century's fastest growing fields of research, as important for technology as for basic science. Building on traditional genetic engineering, which was restricted to changing one or two genes, synthetic biology uses multi-gene modules and pathways to make very significant changes to what cells can do. Synthetic biologists aim to have an impact in fields as diverse as drug manufacture, biofuel production, tackling pollution, and medical diagnostics. Further ahead, synthetic biology may even make possible the long-standing goal of creating new life from non-living starting materials.
This Very Short Introduction provides a concise explanation of what synthetic biology is, and how it is beginning to affect many fields of technology. Jamie Davies also discusses the considerable controversies surrounding synthetic biology, from questions over the assumption that engineering concepts can be applied to living systems easily, to scepticism over the claims for commercial promise, fears that the dangers of engineering life are worse than its benefits, and concerns over whether humans should be designing living systems at all.
1: Biology: from analysis to synthesis
2: How synthetic biology is done
3: Synthetic biology and the environment
4: Synthetic biology and healthcare
5: Synthetic biology for engineering
6: Synthetic biology for basic research
7: Creating life
8: Cultural impact
Jamie Davies joined the faculty of Edinburgh University Medical School in 1995 and was awarded Personal Chair in 2007. His research focuses on how the body builds itself, and how we might use that knowledge to build custom tissues. For the last 10 years, his lab has been pioneering the use of synthetic biology to make self-constructing tissues. He is the author of 7 books, including Life Unfolding (OUP, 2014), and has presented his work to the public in lectures, workshops, and BBC radio programmes.