January 6th, 2012 | Category: Ethics, Media coverage | Leave a comment

Synthetic biology could control your mind

Here’s a typically scary interesting story from the Daily Mail. The article asks: could synthetic biology lead to mind hackers? (Whilst I was surprised that the Mail was aware of synthetic biology, I was even more surprised that there was no mention of whether or not synthetic biology causes or cures cancer).

I was also interested to read the prediction that one day we might live in a world in which we might be able to decode DNA.


More than ten years after the human genome was published (Fig 1.).

Fig. 1. Biologists 'decode' DNA for the first time.

Fig. 1. Scientists decode human genome; Craig Venter's email address discovered.

They also speak to a security expert, who states that,

Synthetic biology will lead to new forms of bioterrorism. Biocrime today is akin to computer crime in the early eighties, few initially recognised the problem – but it grew exponentially.

Which might be true of course, but whilst I dislike computer crime, I would rather have access to computers than not (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to read the Mail online).

There are a couple of points that are of some interest however, buried in the article. The first is an important point about synthetic biology; that it is of interest to computer scientists (like open-source advocate Andrew Hessel),

Hessel believes that genetic engineering is the next frontier of computing. ‘This is one of the most powerful technologies in the world,’ says Hessel. ‘Synthetic biology – the writing of life. I advocate that cells are living computers and DNA is a programming language.’

This is a topic that I shall address in later posts. The second issue is that both the tone of the article and the comments section below it (when on-topic) are overwhelmingly negative (admittedly this is the Daily Mail). It will be interesting to see how synthetic biology gets portrayed and discussed elsewhere in the media as awareness of synthetic biology grows. Will it be possible to engage seriously in a debate about the potentials and pifalls of these technologies? Or, will synthetic biology debates get mired in the same sort of debates as the advantages and disadvantages as GM crops?

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