August 17, 2014 - Here are our 3 favorite biology-related stories from mid-August. We cover Harvard's attempts to define synthetic biology, some start-ups working on laboratory hardware, and some recent news in the field of gene therapy.
1. Defining SynBio
Synthetic Biology’s New Menagerie - Harvard Magazine tries to wrap itself around what exactly "synthetic biology" is. It claims, "Whatever synthetic biologists’ original intent, the field has become a scientific Rorschach test, composed of equal parts scientific novelty and the sum of society’s collective hopes and anxieties. As Hurlbut says, “Synthetic biology is less a field or a set of technologies, than a bunch of people with a vision.”It is perhaps fitting that synthetic biology has taken on a life of its own."
2. Lab Bots & DNA Printers?
Introducing Kilobaser and Modular Science - Kilobaser claims on its website, "Rapid DNA Prototyping: KiloBaser brings DNA synthesis back to the lab bench. Easy, accessible, affordable: perfect for trying out new things in science. No more waiting for your ordered primers and oligos - it's as straightforward as printing now!" A DNA printer more or less?
Sounds interesting and BIT Magazine will be keeping tabs on them, as well as progress made by Modular Science, which promises the following on their website, "We are building hardware and software for lab automation. We focus on modular, hackable, well-documented systems so that you modify the hardware and software for your own experiments."
We did a piece on Modular Science's automated lab bot a few weeks back, which you can find here.
3. Gene Therapy Targets Heart Failure and Donor Waiting Lists
The British Heart Foundation launched a gene therapy trial to combat heart failure, specifically for patients currently dependent on mechanical heart pumps. On the foundation's own website, it states, "The therapy involves
giving the patient a harmless virus which adds DNA directly to
heart cells to correct a genetic problem in failing heart cells,
that can stop the heart from beating powerfully enough to pump
blood round the body properly."
Experimental gene therapy has done everything from cure certain forms of cancer, correcting genetic defects, and now aiding regenerative medicine.