When it comes to synthetic biology, an area of research that combines engineering and science, there are still a number of questions that need to be answered when it comes to finding out not only how life works but also how it can be used to benefit society.
Still, a growing number of scientists and engineers see the field’s potential, particularly in applications like cloning, virus detection, nanotechnology, and other areas.
Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) is one of the researchers paving new roads in synthetic biology – and his work earned him a lot of attention in 2012.
“Media attention for synthetic biology is definitely growing,” said Densmore, who recently noticed even Fidelity Investments promoting the field in a banner at Boston’s Logan Airport. “It’s here to stay.”
In July 2012, The Scientist’s Amber Dance wrote about emerging research in the field and featured Densmore for his program, Clotho, used to manipulate DNA sequences. In the article, Densmore compared Clotho to an iPhone – his group provides apps to customize the sequencing experience and users can also write their own. Clotho now offers more than 30 apps for molecular biologists.
“More and more researchers are getting involved,” said Densmore. “People are definitely starting to see its potential.”
Earlier in the year, Densmore and Associate Professor Soha Hassoun, Tufts University, served as guest editors of the magazine, IEEE Design & Test of Computers in a special May/June 2012 issue about synthetic biology.
“While there are many questions that the larger science and engineering community must still answer regarding synthetic biology, [electronic design automation] professionals can highly contribute to this nascent field,” Densmore and Hassoun wrote.
In that same magazine, Densmore and Hassoun outlined some of their approaches in “Design Automation for Synthetic Biological Systems.”
“Computational methods and tools to (re-)engineer and synthesize biological systems, referred [to as] bio-design automation, are poised to play a critical role in the development of novel biological systems similarly to how electronic design automation (EDA) transformed designing VLSI circuits since the advent of silicon transistors in the 1950s,” said Densmore and Hassoun.
If that wasn’t enough coverage, Densmore was also featured in the August 17 issue of ACS Synthetic Biology when the publication featured two of his team’s research papers and asked him to write an editorial. He also spoke in the magazine’s podcast.
“I believe that we have roughly two choices,” Densmore wrote in the editorial. “First, we wait until biology is fully understood to create design tools, or second, we start today with what we know and create flexible, adaptive software that paves the way to a more fully understood future while providing tangible, experimentally verifiable results today.”
As interest in synthetic biology grows, so, it seems, does the interest in Densmore’s work.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Read the ACS Synthetic Biology research papers:
“An End-to-End Workflow for Engineering of Biological Networks from High-Level Specifications”
“Automated Selection of Synthetic Biology Parts for Genetic Regulatory Networks”