Synthetic Biology: Character and Impact

Synthetic Biology: Character And Impact
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Bernd M. Paperback Fri frakt! Om boka. Ta kontakt med Kundesenteret. Avbryt Send e-post. The commission found many efforts to shape policy, governance, and regulation related to synthetic biology, but few examples of a broad-based ethical framework upon which to base such proposals. We identified five ethical principles relevant to the social implications of synthetic biology and other emerging technologies and used these to guide our evaluation of the current state of synthetic biology and its potential risks and benefits, as well as our policy recommendations.

The guiding principles are: 1 public beneficence, 2 responsible stewardship, 3 intellectual freedom and responsibility, 4 democratic deliberation, and 5 justice and fairness. These principles are intended to serve as provisional guideposts subject to refinement, revision, and comment.

Public beneficence. The ideal of public beneficence is to act to maximize public benefits and minimize public harm. Scientific and technological discoveries often have the added potential of increasing economic opportunities, which also redound to the public good. The principle of beneficence should be applied beyond the individual level—the focus of beneficence in the Belmont Report—to the institutional, community, and public levels, while not overlooking possible harms and benefits to individuals.

If considering whether to restrict these pursuits, a similar examination of community interests and potential positive and negative impacts is essential. When seeking the benefits of synthetic biology and other emerging technologies, public beneficence requires the public and its representatives to be vigilant about harms and prepared to revise policies that pursue potential benefits with insufficient attention to risks.

Responsible stewardship. Responsible stewardship recognizes the need for citizens and their representatives to think and act collectively for the betterment of all, especially those who cannot represent themselves. Benefits and risks extend to current and future human generations, nonhuman species, and the environment, each with unique needs and vulnerabilities.

Emerging technologies present particularly profound challenges for responsible stewardship because our understanding of the potential benefits and risks is incomplete, preliminary, and uncertain. The possibility of intentional misuse by malicious actors further complicates efforts to respond adequately to benefits and risks.

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Responsible stewardship addresses these varied challenges by calling for actions that embrace potential benefits while simultaneously mitigating risks over time and across populations. It calls for broader risk-benefit discussions than would typically be required based on a concern for public beneficence alone.

The principle of responsible stewardship rejects two extreme approaches: an extreme action-oriented approach that pursues technological progress without limits or due regard for public or environmental safety, and an extreme precautionary approach that blocks technological progress until all possible risks are known and neutralized.

While the action-oriented approach is irresponsibly brazen, the precautionary approach is overly wary. Through the development of agile, measured oversight mechanisms, responsible stewardship rejects positions that forsake potential benefits in deference to absolute caution and positions that ignore reasonably foreseeable risks to allow unfettered scientific exploration.

This principle is applied to emerging technologies through open decision-making processes informed by the best available science. A responsible process will continue to evaluate safety and security as technologies develop and diffuse into public and private sectors, and will also include mechanisms for limiting their use when indicated. Prudent vigilance does not demand extreme aversion to all risks. Not all safety and security questions can be definitively answered before projects begin, but prudent vigilance does call for ongoing evaluation of risks along with benefits.

The iterative nature of this review is a key feature of responsible stewardship. It recognizes that future developments demand that decisions be revisited and amended as warranted by additional information about risks and potential benefits. Intellectual freedom and responsibility. Democracies depend on intellectual freedom, coupled with the responsibility of individuals and institutions to use their creative potential in morally responsible ways.

Sustained and dedicated creative intellectual exploration is critical for expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement, developing innovative technologies that can compete in the global marketplace, and fostering collaborations among industry, academe, and government that yield useful products, tools, and policies. Public policy must promote the creative spirit of scientists and unambiguously protect their intellectual freedom because creative and complex intellectual explorations, sustained over time, promote scientific and technological progress. At the same time, the history of science is sadly full of examples of intellectual freedom exercised without responsibility, resulting in appalling affronts to vulnerable populations, the environment, and the ideals of science itself.

Scientists who act irresponsibly are capable of harming not only themselves and other individuals, but also their communities, their nations, and international relations. As a corollary to the principle of intellectual freedom and responsibility, the commission endorsed a principle of regulatory parsimony, recommending only as much oversight as is truly necessary to ensure justice, fairness, security, and safety while pursuing the public good.

Regulatory parsimony is especially important in emerging technologies—still in formation by their very definition—where the temptation to stifle innovation on the basis of uncertainty and fear of the unknown is particularly great. The blunt instruments of statutory and regulatory restraint may not only inhibit the distribution of new benefits, but can be counterproductive to security and safety by preventing researchers from developing effective safeguards.

Democratic deliberation.

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The principle of democratic deliberation reflects an approach to collaborative decision-making that embraces respectful debate of opposing views and active participation by citizens. At the core of democratic deliberation is an ongoing, public exchange of ideas, particularly regarding the many topics—in science and elsewhere—in which competing views are advocated, often passionately. But then automation too had begun by augmenting brawn muscle power to eventually become the superbrawn power during the industrial revolution.

It only required the Homo sapiens to intelligently harness and control steam by first connecting water, heat, and work and then creating the thermodynamics, the science that would allow machines to make human brawn power look insignificant. We have learnt to harness and control reasoning by first connecting logic, axiomatic systems and theorem proving. We are now advancing rapidly into understanding information theory so that quantum computers can become information engines to do intelligent work.

It is interesting that the concept of entropy appears fundamental both in thermodynamics and information theory. Both are offsprings of rational thought in physics, and both are intimately related. Quantum mechanics deals with the world inhabited by photons, electrons, protons, atoms, molecules, etc. It is an incredibly mysterious world understood only in the language of advanced mathematics. It has led to many technical innovations and many more are expected, for example, in synthetic biology.

The success of quantum mechanics in using mathematical abstractions is such that to a lay person it appears mystical, which even religious mystics cannot understand! Its remarkable success comes even though we still do not know what is meant by measurement in the quantum world and how the measurement process captures the information it outputs and why it releases information in a randomized way.

Yet its success is undeniably visible:. Quantum mechanics is an immensely successful theory.


Editors: Giese, B.M., Pade, C., Wigger, H., von Gleich, A. (Eds.) Synthetic Biology is already an object of intensive debate. By contrast, based on an investigation of the field’s scientific and technological character, this book focuses on new functionalities provided by. Request PDF on ResearchGate | Synthetic Biology - Character and Impact | Synthetic Biology is already an object of intensive debate. However, to a great extent.

Not only have all its predictions been experimentally confirmed to an unprecedented level of accuracy, allowing for a detailed understanding of the atomic and subatomic aspects of matter; the theory also lies at the heart of many of the technological advances shaping modern society — not least the transistor and therefore all of the electronic equipment that surrounds us. Understanding quantum mechanics is out of reach except for a few thousand people in the world at any given time!

This should immediately alert us to the fact that human intelligence needed to cope with AI-QC combination in the future will be very high and successor species of the Homo sapiens must evolve in the direction of better and smarter brains rather than any other physical trait. And we may further assume that comprehension and cognition are driven by computation in addition to using intuition, serendipity, flashes of inspiration, and inputs from the environment, etc. The keys are computation, problem-solving algorithms, and rational decision-making processes.

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These can be simulated by a classical computer, which itself has an abstract mathematical description we call the universal Turing machine UTM [ 12 ]. Computing technology has now advanced to a stage where quantum computers can do everything that a UTM can do, and some more. However, it is not clear if these concepts can be ignored in biology and living processes in the way they are ignored in the design of cars and airplanes. May be not because there are areas in biology where quantum effects have been found, for example, in protein-pigment or ligand complex systems [ 40 ].

Thus, while the role of quantum mechanics is clear in quantum computing and hence in advancing both AI and synthetic biology research, it is not yet known if in the design of DNA, knowledge of quantum mechanics is required or that natural selection favors quantum-optimized processes. Essentially, we do not know if any cellular DNA maintains or can maintain sustained entangled quantum states between different parts of the DNA even if it involves only atoms in a nucleotide. But we cannot rule out the possibility that sporadic random entanglements do occur that result in biological mutations or that researchers will not be able to achieve it in the laboratory and find novel uses for it in synthetic biology [ 41 ].

For example, in principle, it is possible to design molecular quantum computers, insert them in cells that can observe cellular activity, and activate select chemical pathways in the cell in a programmed manner. There is increasing speculation that some brain activity, for example, cognition, may be quantum mechanical [ 42 ]. A combination of emerging technologies such as CRISPR, AI, and QC; new delivery models for products and services that form the core around which Homo sapiens organize themselves through collaborative division of labor; and talent migration, driven not by rote education but by innate creativity and global opportunities for employment open to them is disrupting and changing the character of the global talent pool that society needs today.

Globalization has created opportunities for the talented to reach the skies, but in a resource-constrained world, it also means that many others must be or feel deprived. Sections 5.

Video: Major Advances in Synthetic Biology

Because mathematics is abstract, the depicted dynamics apply to entities and situations whether they are animate or inanimate. A resource-constrained world provides ample scope for adversarial dynamics in which some are predators and others are preys. Globalization has accentuated the problem at all levels of social structure, and since speciation is triggered by a changing environment, it affects the DNA. This has created survivability demands on the Homo sapiens. As this pressure mounts beyond endurance, Homo sapiens will face speciation by natural selection with uncertain outcomes.

However, in the case of Homo sapiens , this process too may face a disruptive change because the highly intelligent among them may boldly initiate speciation using upcoming advances in synthetic biology, perhaps after perfecting their techniques by creating humanoids a hybrid creation of life with embedded intelligent machinery. This will be a watershed event where a species takes on the task of speciation on itself. This remarkable possibility arises because Homo sapiens created and mastered mathematics, rational thought, computing machinery, and eventually deep data analytics so that life could be designed by them in the laboratory to create superior species.

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Synthetic biology, using methods and rational knowledge of molecular biology, physical sciences, and engineering, aims to design and construct novel biological parts, artificial biological pathways, devices, organisms, and systems for useful purposes. This will also permit us, at all levels of the hierarchy of biological structures molecules, cells, tissues, and organisms , to redesign existing natural biological systems and may even help us recreate certain extinct species if we can also recreate the environment, they had adapted to.

It is not surprising that an extinct species has never revived itself since speciation and environment go together. Successes of synthetic biology will change the face of human civilization and almost certainly bring in new elements into play when Homo sapiens eventually speciate by playing an active role in it. This enriched biotechnology and computational biology with nomenclature, definitions, concepts, and meanings. This also facilitates integration of synthetic biology with AI and QC.

DNA is an information-carrying polymer. It is an organized chemical information database that inter alia carries the complete set of instructions for making all the proteins a cell will ever need. The next landmark was the creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome by Craig Venter and his group in [ 47 ]. In , Floyd Romesberg and colleagues [ 48 ] reported the creation of a semisynthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet by creating artificial nucleotides not found in Nature. Since its discovery in [ 49 , 50 , 51 ], CRISPR gene editing technology pioneered by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Feng Zhang has come to occupy center stage in molecular biology as a new way of making precise, targeted changes to the genome of a cell or an organism.

It has set the stage for major advances in synthetic biology see Section 4. Another major advance was reported by Venter and his research group in March following their successful creation in of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome noted above. In fact, they succeeded in creating a bacterium that contains the minimal genetic ingredients needed for free living. The genome of this bacterium consists of only genes, including whose precise biological function is unknown. It is a minimalist version of the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides [ 52 , 53 ].

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Synthesis capabilities have developed at a pace where DNA synthesis is now automated. All one needs to do is to provide the desired DNA sequence to a vendor. Researchers in synthetic biology are now inching toward anticipating and preempting evolutionary events that if left to themselves would perhaps take a few million years to occur, and of even resurrecting extinct species.

The time is ripe to integrate synthetic biology with AI and QC with a common language to enable seamless communication among them, connect with, and discover conceptual similarities for consistent integration of subsystems and validation of the whole system. That common language is mathematics; it comes with the added benefit that it can be used to also communicate between humans and machines.

Once translated, biologists will discover some amazing patterns that have a direct bearing on life at the molecular level. We introduce a few of these below in brief. All macromolecules are constructed from a few simple compounds comprising a few atoms. It appears paradoxical that the DNA that serves as the epitome of life is itself lifeless. The molecule conforms to all the physical and chemical laws that describe the behavior of inanimate matter. All living organisms extract, transform, and use energy by interacting with the environment. Unlike inanimate matter, a living cell has the unique capacity, using the genetic information contained completely within itself, to grow and maintain itself and do mechanical, chemical, osmotic, and other types of work.

But its most unique attribute is its programmed capacity to self-replicate and self-assemble. Imagine buying customized pets as starters. As noted in Section 3, the mystery of life is almost certainly encoded in mathematics. The chemical basis of life is one indication because chemistry now has a strong mathematical foundation via quantum chemistry. Even more striking is the fact that all living organisms—bacterium, fish, plant, bird, animal—share common basic chemical features, for example, the same basic structural unit the cell , the same kind of macromolecules DNA, RNA ribonucleic acids , and proteins built from the same kind of monomeric subunits nucleotides and amino acids , the same pathways for synthesis of cellular components, the same genetic code, and evolutionary ancestors.

The monomeric subunits can be covalently linked in a virtually limitless variety of sequences just as the 26 letters of the English alphabet or the two binary numbers 0, 1 in binary arithmetic can be arranged into a limitless number of strings that stand for words, sentences, books, computer programs, etc. Organic compounds of molecular weight less than about , such as amino acids, nucleotides, and monosaccharides, serve as monomeric subunits of proteins, nucleic acids, and polysaccharides, respectively.

A protein molecule may have a thousand or more amino acids linked in a chain, and DNA typically has millions of nucleotides arranged in sequence. Only a small number of chemical elements from the periodic table of chemistry appear in biomolecules. The carbon atom dominates and, by virtue of its special covalent bonding properties, permits the formation of a wide variety of molecules by bonding with itself, and atoms of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.

Nature has placed further constraints. DNA is constructed from only four different kinds of subunits, the deoxyribonucleotides; the RNA is composed from just four types of ribonucleotides; and proteins are put together using 20 different kinds of amino acids. The 8 kinds of nucleotides 4 for DNA and 4 for RNA from which all nucleic acids are built and the 20 amino acids from which all proteins are built are identical in all living organisms.

So, at this level, living organisms are remarkably alike in their chemical makeup. This by itself provides a tantalizing hope that the DNA may indeed be completely decipherable as to its grammar and information content. The organizing principles appear to include 1 Nature is red in tooth and claw species are connected to each other in a predator-prey, food-chain relationship in a sparse resource matrix , 2 rules of genetic inheritance, 3 rules of environmental adaptation, and 4 rules of speciation. At each level, the rules are likely to appear stochastic given that there are innumerable interacting factors ranging from nature to nurture.

The phase transition abruptly creates a giant connected component, while the next largest component is quite small. Such giant components then grow or shrink rather slowly with the number of dots as they continue to link or delink. Such behavior is observed in protein interaction networks, telephone call graphs, scientific collaboration graphs, and many others [ 56 ]. This immediately suggests an involuntary mechanism by which a society at various levels of evolution, by connections alone, spontaneously reorganizes itself as nodes people, machines, resources, etc.

It is highly pronounced in an Internet of Things IoT connected world where the millennials spontaneously polarize on issue-based networks that concern them on social media.

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Synthetic biologists must never forget that between the molecular and environmental levels, there are multiple intermediate levels through which regulated command and control communications pass. At all levels, level-related phase transitions and predatory fights for resources can occur and spread to other levels. In fact, the intimately coupled relationship between Homo sapiens and the environment is often overlooked.

We rarely note what Richard Ogle has that. Instead, we constantly have recourse to a vast array of culturally and socially embodied idea-spaces that populate the extended mind. These spaces … are rich with embedded intelligence that we have progressively offloaded into our physical, social, and cultural environment for the sake of simplifying the burden on our own minds of rendering the world intelligible.

Sometimes the space of ideas thinks for us. The deep significance of this intimate bonding between the Homo sapiens and the environment is that while they are adapting to the environment, they are also helping the environment to adapt to them. When entities connect, they also acquire emergent properties by virtue of the relationships they are bound by. The fluctuating dynamics witnessed in the social media, for example, is common among the millennials. Rapidly increasing connectivity among men and machines has imposed upon the global socio-politico-economic structure, a series of issue-dependent phase transitions.

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More will occur in areas where massive connectivity is in the offing. Immediately before a transition, existing man-made laws begin to crack, and in the transition, they break down. Posttransition, new laws must be framed and enforced to establish order. Since such a phase transition is a statistical phenomenon, the only viable way of managing it is to manage groups by abbreviating individual rights.

The emergence of strongman style of leadership and its contagious spreading across the world is thus to be expected because job-seeking millennials will expect them to destroy the past and create a new future over the rubble. It appears inevitable that many humans will perish during the transition for lack of jobs or their inability to adapt to new circumstances. Robots and humanoids will gain domination over main job clusters, while society undergoes radical structural changes.

Ironically, robots neither need jobs, nor job satisfaction, nor a livelihood. There will be ruthlessness in the reorganization.

Note our interest is only in the long-term trajectory of x 0 and not in its transitory phase. The plot Figure 3 has numerous 2-pronged pitchforks and hence is called the bifurcation diagram. Such and other unexpected not discussed here display of rich complexity tethered to r independent of x 0 i. There are countless situations for which the logistic map captures the essence of a situation. The logistic map allows us to assess the volatility of an adversarial environment by assessing r , that is, the ferocity with which the predators and preys are battling for resources.

Now consider the following complex iteration. If the iterations diverge, then c is not in the Mandelbrot set it is in the escape set , otherwise even when it is trapped in some repeating loop or is wandering chaotically , it is in the Mandelbrot set black points in Figure 4 M. Setting z 0 equal to any point in the set that is not a periodic point gives the same result. This is perhaps the most famous mathematical object yet known. It is a fractal object, an object that is irregular or fragmented at all scales. It is a major discovery of the late 20th century.

It cannot be replicated in Euclidean geometry. In —, Adrien Douady and John H. Hubbard [ 58 ] proved that the Mandelbrot set is connected. Quite astoundingly, the Mandelbrot set, when magnified enough, is seen to contain rough copies of itself, tiny bug-like objects molecules floating off from the main body, but no matter how great the magnification, none of these molecules exactly match any other see Figure 5 and follow the white-bordered square from left to right.

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The simplicity of the iterative formula and the complexity of the Mandelbrot set leave one wondering how such a simple formula can produce a shape of great organic beauty and infinite subtle variation. Infinite variations of the Mandelbrot set are embedded in the set itself. Since the logistic map and the Mandelbrot set map quadratic functions, and both represent behavior under iteration, it is not surprising that a one-to-one correspondence exists between the constants r and c and that the bifurcations created by r correspond to features that come with changes in c along the real axis where the Mandelbrot set compresses the information in the bifurcation diagram, that is, the map shows the points where the map converges to periodic oscillations and its periodicity, while the Mandelbrot set marks all the points, which end up oscillating, but the periodicity information is encoded in the bulbs of the set see Figure 6.

Left Connection between the logistic map and the Mandelbrot set. Right Frank Klemm, Mandelbrot set with periodicity of limiting sequences. It appears that the Mandelbrot set, inter alia , mimics the working of the mind. Its infinitely many variations embedded within itself seem to say that once the mind latches on to an idea and begins to deeply explore it, it does so by investigating its many variations, often in a random fashion i.

On the other hand, if a mind randomly discovers a few of the dispersed similar looking sets, it begins a search for the mother set, M , itself. Is it then surprising that researchers often tackle new problems through random exploration based on a hunch the iterated function , and if they are persistent enough, a solution finally emerges if the hunch is right?

We see a game of conjectures and refutations at play here. The pace at which a system is driven through cyclic iterative, also called self-referential processes, that is, cycles of construction and destruction constrained by recyclable finite resources, has a profound effect on how the system evolves. A remarkably simple model as the logistic map shows an amazing variety of nonintuitive dynamics that a nonlinear system can display. It too provides a basic involuntary mechanism by which a society spontaneously reorganizes itself. In his seminal paper on the logistic map, Robert May, a theoretical ecologist and former President of the Royal Society — was so struck by the deep relationship between complexity and stability in natural communities that he exhorted:.

Not only in research, but also in the everyday world of politics and economics, we would all be better off if more people realised that simple nonlinear systems do not necessarily possess simple dynamical properties. What lessons can we draw from such simple mathematical models? In this predator-prey game where some Homo sapiens turn into predators and the rest into preys, a massive capture of supplies by predators results in a massive population of preys, and the preys must mutate or speciate to survive or die.