For decades, biologists have read and edited DNA, the code of life. Revolutionary developments are giving scientists the power to write it. Instead of tinkering with existing life forms, synthetic biologists may be on the verge of writing the DNA of a living organism from scratch. In the next decade, according to some, we may even see the first synthetic human genome. Join a distinguished group of synthetic biologists, geneticists and bioengineers who are edging closer to breathing life into matter.
The Big Ideas Series is supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation.
Robert Krulwich is co-host of Radiolab, WNYC Radio’s Peabody Award-winning program about ‘big ideas’, now one of public radio’s most popular shows. It is carried on more than 500 radio stations and its podcasts are downloaded over 5 million times each month. He is also the author of the “Curiously Krulwich” blog, featured on National Geographic, where he illustrates hard-to-fathom concepts in science using drawings, cartoons, videos, and more. For over two decades Krulwich reported for CBS and ABC News, explaining complex subjects in a clear, compelling and entertaining way. He also hosted a season of the PBS program NOVA ScienceNOW. Among his honors are two Emmy, two Peabody, and a George Polk AAAS Science Journalism Award for the PBS special, Cracking the Code of Life. Krulwich earned a BA in history from Oberlin College and a law degree from Columbia University.
George Church is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of PersonalGenomes.org, providing the world’s only open-access information on human Genomic, Environmental, and Trait data (GET). His 1984 Harvard Ph.D. included the first methods for direct genome sequencing, molecular multiplexing, and barcoding. These lead to the first commercial genome sequence (pathogen, Helicobacter pylori) in 1994. His innovations in “next generation” genome sequencing & synthesis and cell/tissue engineering resulted in 12 companies spanning fields including medical genomics (Knome, Alacris, AbVitro, GoodStart, Pathogenica) and synthetic biology (LS9, Joule, Gen9, Warp Drive) as well as new privacy, biosafety, and biosecurity policies. He is director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science. His honors include election to NAS and NAE, and Franklin Bower laureate for achievement in science.
Drew Endy is an assistant professor of Bioengineering at Stanford. His Stanford research team develops genetically encoded computers and redesigns genomes. Endy co-founded the BioBricks Foundation as a public-benefit charity supporting free-to-use standards and technology that enable the engineering of biology (BioBricks.org). Endy joined the Stanford faculty in late 2008, having previously studied with and served on the Biological Engineering faculty at MIT. He is also the founding director of the public benefit BIOFAB facility in Emeryville, CA. Endy is a member of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law at the U.S. National Academies and has been nominated to serve on the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. Endy recently gave testimony and provided opening remarks regarding synthetic biology before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the President’s Commission on Bioethics, respectively. He earned a BS and MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, respectively, from Lehigh University and a PhD in Biochemical Engineering from Dartmouth College.
Tom Knight spent most of his career in computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, before playing a major role in creating the field of synthetic biology. In 1996, he seeded interest in the field at DARPA, and built a molecular biology laboratory in the MIT computer science department. Knight developed standards for engineering biological systems, such as the BioBrick™ standard, first distributed in 2002. He was one of the founders of the IGEM competition, and remains on its board. In 2008, he co-founded Gingko Bioworks, where he now remains a full time researcher. His interests include minimal organisms, origins of life, and predictive models of biological systems.
Pamela Silver seeks to reprogram life for improved health and sustainability. Recently, she engineered gut microbes to report on animal health and is the co-creator of the Bionic Leaf. Silver is a Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. She promotes engagement in the responsible engineering of biology and is on the Board of Directors of iGEM.org.