Synthetic biology is the application of engineering principles to altering components of biological systems, like genes and cells, towards creating new and revised living things (watch the video below for an introduction). It's arguably the most radical, cutting-edge laboratory science field today, and one that calls on its scientists to grapple with ethics as well as biotechnology. At the forefront of this life science revolution is the University of California Berkeley-led consortium SynBERC: the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, with partner colleagues at UCSF, Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. Just this week, principal synbio investigators from these institutions came together with industry scientists and ethicists for a symposium on the UCB campus titled Programming Life: the revolutionary potential of synthetic biology, co-sponsored by SynBERC and Discover Magazine. Whether we are going to continue down the road of reengineering life was not the question so much as how we will go about that delicate task and what the implications and promises are of such a bold project.
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If you’ve heard of the University of California’s QB3 organization, you probably already know that their goal is to offer support to researchers in the biosciences and help them commercialize their work. What you may not know is just how successful the organization has been in its six years of existence. QB3, or the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, hit its six year mark in March. Since its beginning, QB3 and its partners have been integral in the inception of 65 new bioscience companies in an expanding network of incubators at UCSF Mission Bay, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley. Together, these companies have earned over $230 million in capital.