Bacteria. Eurgh. Microscopic bugs that we can’t live without. Icky as it is to contemplate (or amazing, if you’re one of those microbiology-fetishist sorts like Mr AllInTheGenes) the human body is home to bazillions of bacteria. That’s right, bazillions. On our skin, in our guts, in our mouths (eurgh eurgh), we wouldn’t function without these tiny troopers. The yoghurt adverts call these our ‘good’ bacteria. But for every Luke Skywalker there’s a Darth Vader — getting infected with ‘bad’ bacteria can cause food poisoning and meningitis and septicaemia and pneumonia and… you get the picture. What’s more, even the good bacteria can turn against us, Anakin Skywalker style, if they find themselves in the wrong part of the body, or if something happens that gives them an advantage over their neighbours. At the moment, we combat unwanted bacteria with antibiotics: compounds that stop the bugs from functioning properly. But as you are probably aware, a crisis is looming. The drugs have stopped working.
Synthetic Biology was not a term I’d ever come across before my boyfriend announced he was taking a job working on it. So, being a curious type, I looked it up. According to syntheticbiology.org (the natural first calling point for lazy googlers) synthetic biology is A) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, or B) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. To translate from jargon, synthetic biologists aim to manipulate existing biological ‘parts’ and put them together in new ways to generate organisms with new functions. This still sounds pretty vague to me, but it’s important to pay attention to synthetic biology. Regardless of how familiar you are