The farther, the safer: a manifesto for securely navigating synthetic species away from the old living world
Syst Synth Biol (2009) 3:77–84 doi: 10.1007/s11693-009-9040-9 &
Biotechnology has empirically established that it is easier to construct and evaluate variant genes and proteins than to account for the emergence and function of wild-type macromolecules. Systematizing this constructive approach, synthetic biology now promises to infer and assemble entirely novel genomes, cells and ecosystems. It is argued here that the theoretical and computational tools needed for this endeavor are missing altogether. However, such tools may not be required for diversifying organisms at the basic level of their chemical constitution by adding, substituting or removing elements and molecular components through directed evolution under selection. Most importantly, chemical diversification of life forms could be designed to block metabolic cross-feed and genetic cross-talk between synthetic and wild species and hence protect natural habitats and human health through novel types of containment.