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“Regenesis” by George Church and Edward Regis Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: May 7th, 2022

Overview

One of the most interesting things in life is the ability of using basic materials to develop more complex matter. The ability to control living things has triggered a biotechnological revolution, which is only comparable to the changes that are witnessed in the information and communication technology. Synthetic biology by applying the concepts of genetic engineering has reinvented the existing organisms by introducing genes of one organism to the DNA of another species (Douglas and Savulescu 687).

According to Church and Regis, synthetic biology is the point in the research field where genetic engineering and life sciences intersect to reinvent nature and human beings. There are a number of changes that are attributed to the emergence and prosperity of synthetic biology. One of such changes is the great improvement on the ability to handle DNA sequencing and analysis. This change has made it a lot cheaper to conduct genome engineering in large-scale (Douglas and Savulescu 689).

Review of Regenesis

How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

In their book Regenesis: How synthetic biology will reinvent nature and ourselves, Church and Regis have succeeded in explaining the concept of synthetic biology and its importance to living things and life. According to Church and Regis, living things are made up of small components that function distinctively. The functions of these components can be compared to the way electronic components, such as transistors, operate. To bring out a proper understanding of synthetic biology, Church and Regis have explained that the subject is equivalent to electric circuits that have been connected together to form a definite lighting system. The book states that biological parts are developed by combining chemical ingredients, which are found in modern labs.

The biological components consist of elements such as proteins, chromosomes and genes, which are known for their ability to sense and relay information within the cells of living organisms. These components are the main targets for synthetic biologists who assemble and programme them to control the living organisms to operate in the way they want them to. The biological components can also be combined in appropriate proportions to produce other chemicals within the organisms, which can be extracted afterwards for other reinventions.

The book relates the emergence of synthetic biology to two major advances in the coexisting technological trends. The first advancement concerns the powerful technology that is used to develop abundant functional genes and genomes by simply assembling and analysing the DNA components. The second one is the huge decrease in cost of doing the DNA assembling and synthesis, which is as a result of the powerful technology. For instance, the cost of sequencing a base pair has decreased by more than 110% while that of DNA synthesis has shot up by a factor of 700 in the last two decades. This is particularly true as the claim is supported by other literatures that have carried out similar studies.

Church and Regis are right in the claim that the concept of synthetic biology has so many benefits in life especially in the fields of medicine, environmental remediation and energy generation. In their defence, the authors explain that the cheap creation and manufacture of synthesised life forms, which include the developing genes and chromosomes that can affect cell regeneration and tissue repair, are products of synthetic biology. The developed biological components are also used to detect diseases as they have the ability to respond to changes in the chemical composition of living organisms (Douglas and Savulescu 691).

According to the book, there are a number of constraints that hinder a quick development of synthetic biology in the field of chemistry. For instance, isoprene is one of the important bio-chemical components used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber, and is produced by almost all living things. The main problem now is to find the gene that is responsible for encoding isoprene synthase. This important gene exists only in rubber trees, which puts too much pressure on the plant species.

However, Church and Regis fail to address a few negative effects that are associated with synthetic biology. For example, they have not explained the factors that limit the ability of the synthetic biologists to predict the long-term effects that are associated with the artificial procedures. An example of these long-term consequences is the horizontal gene transfer problem, which refers to a natural force that causes a genetic movement from one organism to another of a similar species (Douglas and Savulescu 687).

The other issues that have been left unaddressed in the book include mutation and evolution. Every organism has to adapt to its environment to survive; the authors do not explain how the synthesized organisms develop suitable characteristics that match the environment in which they exist for their survival. In addition, the authors do not explain if the proposed mechanisms, including procedures such as sterilising the synthesised organisms, are sufficient to effectively prevent them from reproducing (Douglas and Savulescu 687).

The book has also made an assumption that the current regulations are sufficient in controlling the operations involved in synthetic biology and its products. The authors have probably assumed that the risks involved in synthetic biology are negligible and less dangerous. However, a critical survey depicts that synthetic biology may pose unique risks that cannot be adequately controlled by the current health and safety measures. The authors could have decided to omit this to minimize the negative perception that most people have towards synthetic bio-products (Douglas and Savulescu 687).

Church and Regis also tend to criticise the traditional-cross breeding for its tendency to yielding consequences that are difficult to predict. The authors insist that it is only field of scientific biology that produces consequences that are more predictable and precise. However, they fail to mention any of the several cases in which genetic engineering has produced mutations in the genomes of organisms making the effects of the synthetic procedures impossible to predict. Consequently, it is evident that even synthetic biology can produce consequences that are difficult to predict (Douglas and Savulescu 688).

Synthetic Biology in Chemistry

DNA Fingerprinting and Forensic Analyses

DNA fingerprinting refers to a scientific method used to identify living organisms by using the chemical composition of their DNA. It has been proved that the chemical composition and structures of the DNA found in each person are unique. For that reason, fingerprints of human beings are different and can be used to give forensic evidence in criminal cases. The distinction found in the chemical composition in people’s DNA is the main aspect synthetic biology capitalizes on to produce forensic evidence (Douglas and Savulescu 688).

There are several steps that are involved in the production of a DNA fingerprint. Firstly, DNA obtained from a cell sample is put in enzymes that digest it into smaller sizes before being immersed in a gel. The gel is then placed in an electric field, which causes the migration of the fragments to different positions depending on their sizes. The migration results in patterns of different repeats, which represent the individual who owns the fingerprint. The size of the number of repeats is determined by the length of a given DNA sample (Douglas and Savulescu 689).

When the division process is complete in the DNA fragments, the DNA is then transported to a nitrocellulose filter for immobilization. A DNA probe, which is a radioactive device that has the capability of binding the core repeats sequences, is then used to identify the position of the DNA fragments that contain the repeats. The actual visualization of the fingerprint is done by placing the fragments on an X-ray plate over the filter, which develops a readable structure on a film. The precision of this process is enhanced by using a mini-satellite DNA, which has a relatively low mutation rate (Douglas and Savulescu 689).

It is due to the low probability of two unrelated individuals showing exactly the same patterns in their DNA structures that the concept of fingerprinting is regarded useful in forensic field. The fact that DNA samples for fingerprinting can be extracted from a wide variety of sources makes it more important in the criminal fraternity. The samples can be obtained from semen, blood, vaginal fluid, tissues, hair roots and dead bones of the victims (Douglas and Savulescu 691).

References

Church, George, and Edward Regis. Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2012. Print.

Douglas, Thomas, and Julian Savulescu. “Synthetic Biology and the Ethics of Knowledge.” Journal of Medical Ethics 36.11 (2010): 687-693. Print.

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