Drew Endy & Jim Thomas “Synthetic Biology Debate”

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 02008 by Stewart Brand
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Drew Endy and Jim Thomas

Terms of biocontainment

“I want to develop tools that make biology easy to engineer,” Drew Endy began. The first purpose is better understanding fundamental biological mechanisms through “learning by building.” The toolkit of Synthetic Biology starts with DNA construction and ascends through DNA parts, to devices, to standardized systems. An organism’s DNA code, and therefore the organism, can be digitally uploaded, stored, distributed, and downloaded. Life forms are programmable…

Read the rest of Stewart Brand’s Summary

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  • 2B1

    The future “products” of synthetic biology cannot be engineered to remain in co-existence with, or subservient to any current species on Earth (including humans) because the central dogma of evolution requires that only the fittest survive.

    The anticipation, or perhaps the misguided hope that envisions humans (or scientists) to be able to control “synthesized life” is based on the misconception about what it takes to create life.

    The proponents of synthetic biology believe that there is a utility function to be derived by “engineering life”. Perhaps, but they fail to disclose that this could only be efficiently and economically accomplished by means of selection, rather than by screening for such a function. While screening for a new utility function poses little risk, selecting for a new utility function from a library of “synthetic” individual genetic variations is dangerous. The intrinsic difference between the processes of selection and screening would result in only two possible outcomes.

    Should the screening method be used, one cannot expect to derive any sufficiently justifiable new utility function because we do not yet have sufficient information to design life rationally.

    In contrast, the termination of many current species, including possibly humans is virtually predictable should the selection method be used to circumvent human inability to design life rationally. Once a library of engineered organisms, rather than an individual “new” species would be introduced into an ecosystem in an assisted attempt to select for a new utility function, the unfair survival advantage of the “new creation” is virtually guaranteed. Hence, only the fittest survive.

    One needs to re-think that value proposition of “synthetic biology”. People of means, with all thy getting get understanding.

  • 2B1

    The tools for “modifying biology” that were mentioned during the seminar were never used to “synthesize autonomous biological parts or tools”. The extrapolations drawn between past performance of molecular biology and the proposed rational design of life are a priori inconsistent because life cannot be defined by such linear thinking.

    Also, to be consistent with reality, if one makes an argument in favor of access to the tools of molecular biology for teenagers, as was done by the speaker, one should not object to making the nuclear weapon components to be universally accessible. Such argument is not accepted to any informed person. Proponents of “synthetic biology” can make their arguments today because no biological weapons have yet been used to the same degree as nuclear weapons.

    The concept of rebuilding nature with “tools” is self-inconsistent and dangerous to all life forms, including venture capitalists of financiers of this proposed non-sense.

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  • An article in Physorg about home genetic engineering sent in by Steve Kurtz:

  • JayeRandom

    “the central dogma of evolution requires that only the fittest survive.”

    That is incorrect. Evolutionary pressure permits the survival of species which are *sufficiently adequate*, as opposed to only the “fittest” species.

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  • Pingback: Drew Endy vs. Jim Thomas, “Synthetic Biology Debate” (MP3 audio), Longnow Foundation, 2008/11/17 « Media Download Queue –> Coevolving Innovations()

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