Redesigning life: The promise and perils of synthetic biology

The Economist | Redesigning life https://www.economist.com/node/21762373?frsc=dg%7Ce

The promise and perils of synthetic biology

For the past four billion years or so the only way for life on Earth to produce a sequence of dna—a gene—was by copying a sequence it already had to hand. Sometimes the gene would be damaged or scrambled, the copying imperfect or undertaken repeatedly. From that raw material arose the glories of natural selection. But beneath it all, gene begat gene.

That is no longer true. Now genes can be written from scratch and edited repeatedly, like text in a word processor. The ability to engineer living things which this provides represents a fundamental change in the way humans interact with the planet’s life. It permits the manufacture of all manner of things which used to be hard, even impossible, to make: pharmaceuticals, fuels, fabrics, foods and fragrances can all be built molecule by molecule. What cells do and what they can become is engineerable, too. Immune cells can be told to follow doctors’ orders; stem cells better coaxed to turn into new tissues; fertilised eggs programmed to grow into creatures quite unlike their parents…

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