back to article Promote your local synthetic biologist

If your news filter is set to "bioterrorism" you may have seen a recent column by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian. Spurred by a London visit by Craig Venter, it was the usual journalistic script on synthetic biology. Having delved into Lexis, we can say with authority that a couple of hundred major stories have run on synbio …


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  1. Marvin the Martian
    IT Angle


    Wow! Somebody who finds a good side to the misbegotten Oryx&Crake ... thing.

    That said, was reading the Craig "J stands for Saviour" Venter autobio and saw his spiel here... It's an amazing piece of work, the character of anybody he dislikes is assassinated without giving any context whatsoever. He maybe a better science writer than many other bigwigs, and come to clear expositions, but the putrid glop of irrelevant trivia (incontinence of his sailing partners, e.g., or not mentioning decade-spanning scientific conflicts he has --- but instead referencing those involved as christian fundamentalist) makes it a thick book.

  2. Paul

    @Marvin the Martian

    Now go and write out a thousand times:

    "I am not amanfromMars"

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



  4. Gilleain Torrance
    Thumb Up

    The new nanotech

    Time was, this kind of hype would have surrounded nanotech 'solutions'. Not the real, workable nanotech (airbags I think, and, er...) but the self-replicating gray-goo type. Having realised that this kind of nanotech has already been done by biology, it gets renamed as "synthetic biology".

    But it's omnipotency is still there, I guess. The idea that bacteria can be made to soak up CO2 is especially bizarre. Don't trees do that already? Why would modified/artificial bacteria do it better?

    Good article.

  5. Kurt Guntheroth

    formula for science press release

    <technology I'm punting> will solve <this week's problem in the news>

    AI will solve Global Warming, RFID will solve terrorism, Synthetic biology will solve intractible diseases, nanotechnology will solve energy crisis...

    And just where is AI now? They overplayed the hype card, until every funder expected a miracle, and got cranky when the miracle didn't occur. The same thing goes for nanotechnology. We're very good at making tiny particles, which is great for paint pigments (except we already have paint pigments), but the promised microscopic robots repairing our bodies are nowhere to be seen (as if it was even possible). This is a classic recipe for funding cut-off. Don't they make scientists study history? Guess not.

  6. Marvin the Martian


    What? No! AAAAaaaghgaa... If you insist, I can rewrite it in that style, but that will take more than the 60k characterlimit of the postings.

    Just visiting this planet, don't shoot me!

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Tree houses

    We can live in giant trees like the elves in middle earth w00t, California may not be good though as it seems to get a bit burny burny there.

    Planning departments will get upset though, i mean you accidentally plant the wrong acorn and whoops a mansion tree rather than cottage tree that is sympathetic to its enviroment grows.

    Cities would be fun , knocking down stuff to plant tree houses.

    Would you pay more for evergreens?

  8. J
    IT Angle

    Oryx and Crake

    Ah, what a subtle (not) reference...

  9. Bob Barker
    Paris Hilton

    Oryx And Crake

    Awesome book. Had to read it for an event I was attending and sure am glad I did.

    The dystopian picture painted by Atwood, while bizzare, is completely possible with the way the world is going. Although no one would be selling mult-orgasm-orgy-starting pills and hope for them to be bought by every single human being in the world like it did in the book, there are several other ways that a specific chemical or chemical product can be delivered throughout the entire world. Ozone creating molecules that, after a certain time blacken the atmosphere (a la Animatrix) or molecules that soak up the excess heat produced by greenhouse gases that ends up raising the water level around the world, these are all possible ways for the book to come to life for us.

    So yeah, before buying your next miracle pill, ask yourself if its too good to be true.

    PS: Hilton because imagining Oryx to be here made the book go by much quicker and made it hilarious to a certain extent too!

  10. ian


    How do you repurpose/remodel your treehouse? If your neighborhood is in need of redevelopment do you just convert into kindling or matchsticks?

  11. Drew Endy

    Reality & Respect

    I was grateful to see your article's attempt to bring some perspective to the current press-driven hype frothing around synthetic biology. It would be good to develop still more perspectives on how synthetic biology is (or is not) any different from the last 35 years of biotechnology and genetic engineering. There are some real changes underway, but most of them are at the level of underlying technologies used to design and build genetic systems, and not in the high profile applications that attract most of the attention. A good place to learn more is to study the student project presentations from the iGEM jamboree (try YouTube or; a quick glance will let you know that we still have a long way to go, but that some interesting work is being done. As a last note, it is a shame that you appear to disrespect Rich Newton in your article's closing. He was one of the great engineering leaders in the US and world, and a hero to many people. His very sudden passing is still deeply felt. You can learn more about Rich via this website:

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