Synthetic Genomics Study

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Introduction & Background

DNA synthesis is a technology that enables new genetic material to be constructed from raw chemicals. The technology has been developing over the last ~30 years, but more recently has undergone rapid improvements in both capacity and cost. Today, it is possible to order a 10,000 base pair fragment of DNA over the web (i.e., you provide the DNA sequence information, a credit card number, and a shipping address). Most researchers involved with the technology believe that it is now possible to build 200,000 base pair fragments of DNA and expect that a ~1,000,000 base pair bacterial genome will be constructed within the next two years. The Sloan Foundation recently provided a grant to study the technical and societal consequences of the further development of DNA synthesis technology (aka "synthetic genomics"). Here's the announcement.

MIT/Boston-area Synthetic Society Working Group

We are planning to organize/host an ad hoc, informal discussion group that will meet ~once per month over the course of the study. My hope is that we (the MIT community) can explore and discuss any technical and societal issues that have to do with the development of long fragment DNA synthesis technology. Stay tuned for an announcement of the first meeting's time & place. Endy 18:07, 3 Jul 2005 (EDT)

Details of the Synthetic Society Working Group are here.

Synthetic Tea

Invitation to the 1st Synthetic Tea: Refreshments, Reflections, and Ramifications

Dear friends,

The Technology and Culture Forum is working with Drew Endy to set up an initial gathering of about 30 people in the MIT community to begin a conversation regarding the risks and societal implications of synthetic genomics. The gathering will be on Wednesday, Nov. 9th from 3-5 pm in 35-520, the Given Room. Tea and refreshments will be served.

We are tentatively planning on two or three more gatherings of the same group in the course of the academic year, but the final decisions re: how often to meet will depend on the interest and energy level of those who attend the first gathering.

As you may know, Drew recently received a grant from the Sloan Foundation, and that grant will allow him to gather biologists and biological engineers from around the country for three conferences to discuss technical and societal consequences of synthetic genomics. ( The conversations we are planning within the MIT community are not *part* of the Sloan project but will be in dialogue with them and begin to create a community of informed and interested inquiry on the topic here at MIT.

Please RSVP to Patricia Weinmann at 3-0108 or by October 25th.

Many thanks,
Amy McCreath
The Rev. Amy McCreath
Episcopal Chaplain at MIT
Coordinator -- Technology and Culture Forum at MIT
77 Mass. Ave. -- MIT Bldg. W11
Cambridge MA 02139

Background Reading

  • Whole Gene Synthesis: A Gene-O-Matic Future by Lance Stewart and Alex B. Burgin (book chapter). Provides historical summary of synthesis chemistry and its extension to build genes.
  • Pace & Proliferation of Biological Technologies by Rob Carlson. A fanciful, but good, description of how fast things are happening w/r/t core biological technologies.
  • The Pandora's Box Congress by Michael Rogers. Rolling Stone article covering the 1975 Asilomar conference
  • VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment) website


MIT Synthetic Biology Working Group
J. Craig Venter Institute
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation


Study announcement via MIT News Office