How did we get here?

You may have heard about xenobots, a synthetic organism invented by an AI in 2020. Xenobots are made from the Xenopus laevis frog's skin and heart cells, hence the name. The 3.0 version has the ability to self-replicate by collecting other free cells around it.

Going back, field trials of golden rice were conducted in 2004, though the research started a few decades prior. Golden rice is rice that has been genetically modified to produce more beta-carotene, a chemical that eventually gets converted to vitamin A in your body.

While the term synthetic biology has itself been around for over a century, it really started to kick off around the turn of the millennium thanks to better technology. SynBio is a field that involves redesigning organisms or creating new ones from scratch. In the end, we're blurring the lines between "natural" and "synthetic". I'll leave that to the philosophers to sort out.

Why should you get excited?

If the thrill of discovery isn't enough for you, there are other reasons synthetic biology and its parent field of biotechnology have gained interest. As biological machines, humans are prone to a lot of diseases from other biological things. If we keep relying on pure chemistry, our attackers can just evolve to evade our weapons. And in cancer for example, it's difficult to separate cancer cells from healthy cells, and all we can really do for now is attack the area and hope the cancer dies before the patient does.

Scientists are already working hard on cures that act more like guided missiles, similar to the phages I covered in my previous post. We already have a few vaccines for certain types of cancer, but if someone is e.g. immunocompromised, it may not be a viable option. And either way, having a backup plan is always good.

Why should you not get excited?

As with most things in science, the field is a double-edged sword. One of the main concerns people have is that one may choose to create a nanovirus that injects microchips or alien DNA into our bodies that allows the government to mind-control the masses (a favourite scenario of conspiracy theorists). Or more sensibly, we could get a circulating SARS-CoV-3. Still, humanity has survived plague after plague, and combined with our science we will always find a way.

And for that I say...

Get excited!!