How to make biology easy to engineer and what are the consequences of success? Drew Endy exposes his views on these key issues in the field of synthetic biology in a video released in the last issue of EDGE.
As a teaser, here are a few quotes from this interview, summarizing in a nutshell his opinion on the current priorities of the field and its future development:
Engineers hate complexity. I hate emergent properties. I like simplicity. I don’t want the plane I take tomorrow to have some emergent property while it’s flying.
How do you manage the information going into a DNA synthesizer so that you can construct some useful object that’ll help you do genetics? […] I think George Church and Craig Venter have a lot to contribute to it, which will be terrific. It will be part of synthetic biology, but it will be synthetic biology impacting science, which is the worst case scenario for synthetic biology.
Five years from now, we may have just begun to make some good progress on reliable functional composition of standard biological parts. Nobody knows how expensive solving that problem will be, but because biology works there’s plenty of existence proofs. […] If I had to guess, I’d say we’ll have a collection of tens of thousands of genetic objects that support reliable functional composition between ten and 15 years from now.
Drew Endy also mentions the need to develop an “ownership sharing and innovation framework” that will be appropriate to this pure engineering approach to synthetic biology. A related question might be to find the appropriate publishing instruments that would provide suitable incentives and (micro)attribution mechanisms for those who will embark in contributing, probably often incrementally, to the projected “tens of thousands of genetic objects”. One idea could be here to adopt a two-layered system inspired from the one proposed for “”http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng0108-1">Human Variome Microattribution Reviews". In such a system, a “Part Browser” would provide the list and number of all articles/database entries referring to a specific part while partner journals would commission high-level Part/Device Review articles to highlight a “family” of parts or device that might be of particular relevance to the community. Would this make sense (eventually)? How did the electronic engineering field deal with this problem in its early days?