Building your own bugs is the aim of a new science course, as reported in Science vol. 303, p158, 9 January 2004. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University and some private biotechnology companies are working on developing a new field of science called “synthetic biology” which aims at building new kinds of bacteria for specific purposes, such as cleaning up pollution, producing hydrogen or detecting chemicals. Students at MIT have been learning some of the techniques involved by inserting a gene circuit into a bacterium that makes it turn on fluorescent proteins in a regular cycle so they blink on and off like a lighthouse. Blinking bacteria may not have much practical use now, but building the circuit has enabled scientists to learn how to make the different biological components needed to activate and control genes and bacterial biochemical processes. Eventually they hope to build up a collection of bacterial components that could be put together like the different parts in an electronic circuit in order to achieve some desired function.

Editorial Comment: “Synthetic” describes something that has been put together from raw materials in order to achieve some desired purpose, e.g. synthetic fibres. When biologists have put together their first synthetic organism they will have proved that life is brought into existence by Someone who exist before life, who is not a part of that life, and who is smarter than that life. It takes information and creative manipulation to make living organisms. Furthermore, if they bothered to look, they will find that many of the desired abilities of planned synthetic bugs, e.g. making hydrogen, cleaning up pollution, already exist in microbes that were designed and built by the original Creator who has promised to supply all our needs. (Ref. synthetic, bacteria, design)