The Synthetic Bestiary – Synthetic Biology, Genetic Engineering, and The Future

Artificial ‘Jellyfish’ Created From Rat Cells

The Parker Lab at Harvard University has incredibly created an artificial ‘jellyfish’ from nothing but rat heart cells. The lab has dubbed their creation a “medusoid” and they are using it to understand the fundamental laws of muscular pumps (such as the heart).  Parker remarked about the work:

“Usually when we talk about synthetic life forms, somebody will take a living cell and put new genes in. We built an animal. It’s not just about genes, but about morphology and function.”

As truly impressive as this seems, it does slightly gloss over the issue that this “organism” could hardly be considered life under most definitions. It has scarce cell diversity, requires an electrical pulse to move, is not capable of maintaining homeostasis, and cannot reproduce. Nonetheless this is an important first step in the direction of engineering novel organisms from scratch.

Read an article about the work from Nature here. The original paper can be found here. Check out two videos of the jellyfish swimming after the break.

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Video of the Week #3: Synthetic Biologist Karmella Haynes

In this week’s video of the week we have a short profile of the work and opinions of Karmella Haynes, a synthetic biologists. The video is a great introduction to the field and a small insight into the life of a synthetic biologist. Check it out here.

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Stem Cells Used to Grow Bone In Vitro

Bonus BioGroup, an Israeli biotech company has managed to grow bone from human stem cells in laboratory conditions. This opens the way for bone transplants, something previously impossible. Bone transplants have already been successfully performed on animals, with the step towards humans and commercialisation not being very far away. Read more in this article by The Telegraph.

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Human Organ on a Chip

Donald E. Ingber and his team at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute have developed a chip which contains human cell cultures and aims to simulate (for the purposes of  scientific testing) human organs. Such a chip would be cheaper, more ethical, and more accurate than current animal testing used in drug development. By connecting chips of different organs together an effective “human body” of chips could be created. Check out a video on the work by Reuters after the break.

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Synthetic Biology for the Next Generation

Right now a symposium titled “Synthetic Biology for the Next Generation” is being run jointly by The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering – in New York City. Participants in this conference will examine the tools, platforms, and infrastructure needed for continued advances in synthetic biology; political and social strategies to pursue these advances; and research applications in key areas.

You can watch the live stream of the symposium right now here. (EDIT: the conference is now over but the videos are available from where the stream was). You can also follow the symposium via the twitter hashtag #synbioLEAP. The symposium will progress throughout today and tomorrow (June 12/13) and is the last of a three part series of symposiums. This conference takes a very realist, applied and advanced approach to the issues of synthetic biology.


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