Citizen Science wk 4 readings

Synthetic Biology: Applications, Benefits, and Risks

  • renewable energy: biofuels are derived from biomass from plants, animals, and organic waste
    • methods of harvesting energy: burning, chemical treatment, biodegradation
    • ethanol is the most common (corn or sugar cane); biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease
      • ethanol includes inefficiencies and energy costs for production, concern about volume of plant sources and possible collateral impact on food prices
      • biodiesel involves significant energy costs
    • potential benefits of biofuels produced through synthetic biology: possible reduction in global depends on fossil fuel, cuts in emissions, minimization of economic and political volatility surrounding fossil fuel reserves
      • synthetic biology aims to improve the speed and efficiency of converting biomass into advanced biofuels that are cleaner and more energy-efficient
      • synthetic biology also offers new biomass sources, or feedstocks, that are more efficient, reliable, low-cost, and scalable
      • large global reserves of hydrocarbons might be leveraged
    • butanol: a bioalcohol made by synthetic biology that is more promising that ethanol
    • photosynthetic algae engineered to secrete bio-oil continuously
      • biodegradable and harmless if spilled
      • less polluting and more efficient
      • consumes carbon dioxide
    • hydrogen fuel
  • health applications
    • research and development on this is still early
    • medicines
      • metabolic engineering: an organism’s metabolic pathways are redesigned to produce novel products or augment the production of current products (ie drugs)
      • can engineer molecules and cells that express proteins or pathways responsible for human disease
      • arteminsinin: antimalarial drug produced from genetically engineered e.coli that produces a high volume precursor that can be chemically converted to semi-synthetic artemisinin
    • vaccines
      • synthetic biology tools (ie DNA sequencing and computer modeling) may streamline production time of the flu vaccine
    • advancing biology and personalized medicine
      • cloning genes can be done in minutes
      • expansion of the DNA alphabet
      • makes individually tailored approaches to disease prevention and health care possible
      • custom protein and biological circuit design may enable delivery of smart proteins or programmed cells that self-assemble at disease sites
    • risks
      • release of engineered organisms to the wild
      • infectious diseases may be transmitted to lab workers or their family
      • novel organisms used to treat illness may trigger unanticipated adverse effects in patients
  • agricultural applications
    • potential benefits:
      • high-yield and disease-resistant plant feedstocks that can be supplemented with efficient and environmentally-friendly microorganisms to minimize water use and replace chemical fertilizers
      • nutritional benefits (ie boosting protein levels)
      • environmental biosensors that detect nutrient quality of soil or environmental degradation
      • biosurfactants could minimize pollution damage
    • potential risks:
      • uncontrolled environmental escape and disruption of ecosystems
      • new or stronger pests that are difficult to control
      • increased pesticide resistance and growth of invasic species

2 thoughts on “Citizen Science wk 4 readings

  1. This is such a great synthesis of the readings and subject matter Jenna! You really extracted the important nodes and synthesized the information in a very straight forward and accessible way.

    Wonderful work. Do you mind if I use this in the future – giving you full attribution of course.

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