Synthetic biology stands to have a major influence on the course of technology over the next 5 – 15 years. Specifically, continuing decreases in the cost of DNA synthesis will allow for more experimentation with life’s building blocks by an increasingly diverse group of scientists and amateurs. The core uncertainty surrounding synthetic biology is not “if” or “when”, but rather how this newfound control over the stuff of life will factor into the future.
The answer holds implications for a wide swath of fields from energy policy to artificial intelligence to bioterrorism.
The field’s most recent milestone was the creation of a self-replicating bacterial cell from a completely synthetic genome. This proves the basic viability of synthetic biology’s promise. A few other factors will work to compound the field’s influence: The creation of abstractions above the protein / DNA will allow biological processes and characteristics to be treated as basic functional units in the design of new life. This abstraction process is already under-way by the The BioBricks Foundation and similar initiatives.
Research will consist primarily of review of scientific literature on the topic — both technical material and bioethics related commentary will be of interest. Statistical analysis of historical costs for the technical procedures associated with synthetic biology — perhaps most importantly, DNA synthesis — should reveal trends and allow for projections regarding critical cost milestones. Finally, interviews with researchers and amateurs who working on the forefront of the field will round-out my understanding of the role synthetic biology will play in shaping our future.