The New Biology
Edited by Matthew Rimmer and Alison McLennan
Chapter 7: Building with BioBricks: Constructing a Commons for Synthetic Biology Research
Alison McLennan On 21 May 2010, scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute in the United States announced that they had made a ‘self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell’.1 This achievement is the most famous outcome of synthetic biology, a burgeoning new ﬁeld of biotechnology research. The achievement was made possible by our increasing ability to build DNA from its components and to stitch it together to form synthetic genomes. The disciplines of molecular biotechnology, chemical engineering, genomics, and information technology converge in this new ﬁeld of synthetic biology. With its promise of improved medical treatments and greener energy sources, along with its potential risks of bioterrorism and damage to the environment or human health, synthetic biology has been increasingly capturing the public imagination and attracting government and commercial attention. This excitement reached a crescendo with the announcement of the successful construction of the synthetic bacterial cell. Even the United States President Barack Obama joined the ensuing debate, asking his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to investigate synthetic biology.2 This chapter will provide an overview of the ﬁeld of synthetic biology, focusing in particular on the branch of synthetic biology that uses ‘standard biological parts’. The chapter will then address the approach to intellectual property, sharing and commons development in this ‘parts agenda’. 1 2 Gibson, D. et al. (2010), ‘Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome’, Science, 329 (5987), 52–6. Their report was released in December 2010: The Presidential Commission for the Study...
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