“What is synthetic biology and what can it do?” asked Corey Powell, the editor-at-large of DISCOVER magazine, at a recent conference on the topic. “You’re lucky that you have the world’s leaders in that field right here giving you authoritative answers.”
One of those leaders was Boston University Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) who participated in the event, Programming Life: The Revolutionary Potential of Synthetic Biology, on March 25. The conference was sponsored by DISCOVER magazine and SynBERC.
“To me, synthetic biology really is to be able to engineer things using abstraction, modularity and rules,” said Densmore. “If we can compose systems rationally, then ultimately people like myself can get in and build tools and techniques and algorithms to do that.”
Currently, Densmore is working to make the design of synthetic biological systems more mechanized through electronic design automation. CLOTHO, a unified tool set he and his team have designed, encapsulates this research.
His interest in synthetic biology began, in part, when he realized that DNA assembly was not a very efficient or organized practice.
“As a computer engineer, I said there’s a lot of things wrong with this fundamentally,” said Densmore.
At the conference, Densmore spoke on the Catalyzing Biological Engineering panel. The only computer engineer in the discussion, Densmore served as an example of how non-linear the field of biology really is.
Much of the day-long event aimed to show that synthetic biology could be used to make a better world – improving everything from human health to food supplies. To make these changes though, minds from many academic disciplines will need to work together.
Densmore is playing his part by getting students excited about the field, which can be a challenge since researching synthetic biology isn’t as much of an established career path as opposed to, say, working for Google.
“You really have a chance to be a pioneer in this field,” said Densmore. “The kinds of things that we establish now I believe will set the stage for the future.”
Watch the complete video of the panel discussion at DISCOVER.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)