Synthetic Biology Makes Scary Headlines, but Universities Promote It as a Lifesaver

Synthetic Biology Makes Scary Headlines, but Universities Promote It as a Lifesaver 1

Alison Yin for The Chronicle

Jay D. Keasling, a professor at the U. of California at Berkeley and head of the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, Calif., uses the gene-altering techniques of synthetic biology in efforts to develop biofuels and a plant-related drug for fighting malaria.

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close Synthetic Biology Makes Scary Headlines, but Universities Promote It as a Lifesaver 1

Alison Yin for The Chronicle

Jay D. Keasling, a professor at the U. of California at Berkeley and head of the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, Calif., uses the gene-altering techniques of synthetic biology in efforts to develop biofuels and a plant-related drug for fighting malaria.

The renowned scientist J. Craig Venter got top-shelf attention last spring when his lab implanted modified DNA into growing bacteria and he pronounced it "the first synthetic species" of life.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers convened a hearing to study the implications. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama asked his bioethics commission to investigate, saying the event raised "genuine concerns."

But there is a far more compelling story about how this field, known as synthetic