Patents in synthetic biologyBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c2984 (Published 14 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2984
- Sarah Chan, research fellow in bioethics and law,
- John Sulston, chair
- 1Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, University of Manchester M13 9PL
The recent report from the J Craig Venter Institute of the engineering of a self replicating bacterium with a chemically synthesised genome is a step towards artificial life and raises potential ethical concern.1
“Synthetic biology” has emerged in recent years as an umbrella term to describe a range of technologies for manipulating and creating components of biological systems.2 Although popular perception may be that scientists in the field are engaged in creating new and entirely artificial life forms, the progress towards this possibility has been more subtle and pragmatic.
Advances to date have been in synthesising and modifying molecular components at the sub-organism level. This latest work is technically impressive but does not really break new ground in a philosophical sense because it involves the introduction of a genome that is functionally the same as an existing one. In a practical sense, the authors suggest that their method opens up new realms of bioengineering. However, it is unclear how the …