A couple of long stories in the New York Times Magazine this weekend caught my interest. One of them covers the emerging world of university competitions in synthetic biology:
Over the past five years, iGEM teams have been collaboratively amassing a centralized, open-source genetic library of more than 5,000 BioBricks, called the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Each year teams use these pieces of DNA to build their projects and also contribute new BioBricks as needed. BioBricks in the registry range from those that kill cells to one that makes cells smell like bananas. The composition and function of each DNA fragment is cataloged in an online wiki, which iGEMs director calls the Williams-Sonoma catalog of synthetic biology. Copies of the actual DNA are stored in a freezer at M.I.T., and BioBricks are mailed to teams as red smudges of dehydrated DNA. Endy showed me a set stuck to paper, like candy dots.
The article follows a team from a community college in San Francisco that competes with the “big boys” – I love the fact that one of the real powerhouses, from Slovenia, gets all kinds of local media attention.