User:Mackenzie L. Cowell/SB interview questions

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  • What is your background?
  • How did you get involved in SB?
    • focus on anecdote about talking to traditional biologists at the bench and the realization that they didn't have much standardization.


  • what is SB?
    • how is it different than Genetic Engineering?
    • why didn't SB happen 30 years ago? or 20 or 10?
  • Is SB engineering or science?
  • How do we engineer biology?
  • What is the difference between the process of evolution and the process of engineering?
    • what do you mean by "separation?"
  • Is biology modular?
  • How do you begin to engineer a self-replicating system?
  • How do you begin to engineer adaptability?
    • is anyone or any field already working on self-replicating systems?
    • flexible / adaptive systems?
  • How do CAD tools relate to SB?
  • What is an idempotent operation or standard?
  • When will we have a programmable cell?
  • Talk about these buzzwords:
    • reliability, abstraction, insulation, composition, standardization, complexity, evolvability,
  • How can the engineering toolbox we have developed to build electronics & computers help us engineer biological systems?


  • Where will SB be in 10 years?
  • When will we have a programmable cell?
  • What are some of the most interesting / exciting potential application of SB on the horizon?
  • What are some of the biggest bottlenecks preventing the success of SB?
    • measuring / characterizing? Funding?


  • What are some successful applications of SB so far?
  • Who is doing SB today? Where?
  • Is there more funding for SB in the USA, Europe, or Asia?
  • What sort of support do you see at a University / National level for hiring / funding SB research?
  • What is going on with IP issues in SB? Is it analogous to the Open-Source software movement?
  • A lot of key players in SB now have strong ties to industry, how do you think this might affect their options towards openness and sharing? Will this bring essential money to the field without crumbling the ideals?

Social issues

  • How do traditional biologists respond to the concept of SB?
  • How do you explain standards to traditional biologists?
  • How will the public react to SB? How can we as scientists educate the layperson?
  • How can SB practitioners avoid the kind of public reaction that occurred with GE crops in Europe?
  • Do you feel a spirit of friendly collaboration between Synthetic Biologists?

iGEM / BBF / BioBricks / Misc

  • What is iGEM?
    • how does it promote, and potentially validate, SB?
  • What are biobricks?
  • What is the biobricks foundations?
  • Where do you see iGEM & Biobricks in 10 years?

  • What is so exciting about biological systems?
  • What is the potential and implication of being able to engineer machines / systems that can replicate themselves?
  • Get abstraction barrier tape, use as a prop
  • Mead & Conway's book introduced a framework that allowed university people to play around with IC design, and this was key to standardization in the IC industry. How could this happen in SB?
  • To paraphrase Richard Feyneman, "That which I cannot create, I do not understand." How does this relate to mainstream life sciences and engineering?