Seminar in Barcelona

During my internship at the Institute of Marine Science (ICM) from the Superior Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), I had the opportunity to carry out a talk on synthetic biology and our project in iGEM at the weekly meeting of the Department of Marine Biology and Oceanography.

I had an audience composed by biologists and marine scientists from diverse fields of study and years of experience, some of them related to molecular biology.

My talk started with a general introduction to synthetic biology as a science, definition and history. I connected my speech to the importance of outreach activities and worldwide brainstorming campaigns, such as international student contests such as iGEM. I explained what iGEM was all about, and how students get enrolled and develop really original projects and biological parts for building systems.

I finally came to the part where I talked about our team’s heterogeneity of disciplines, and explained the different ideas we came up at the birth of our iGEM team, and how we ended up choosing the one we are now developing. I made a general overview on the idea, the objectives, the construct, the theory, the applications and the future vision.

The interactive time was mainly composed of questions directed to the functioning of the consortium in different situations, and how quorum sensing worked between species. It also drifted to questions about how efficient was the system and how could we optimize it in the future.

Controversial opinions on the application of synthetic ecology, triggered the arrangement of a debate the next month with a larger group of scientists specialized on ecology, at a meeting called the Margalef Hour at the same institute. Here we discussed some recent papers on the origins, function and applications of ecologic-interaction-engineering as a sprouting branch of synthetic biology.Imagen

What do you know about Synthetic Biology?

We have published a quiz in order to know what people know and think about Synthetic Biology. Feel free to answer and spread it :).

If you want to answer it, please click the link that corresponds to your age.

Thank you very much!!

16-25 years old: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=nPHy1+s3R8E&chk=1

26 – 40 years old: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=pYXRDjFgbSg

41-100 years old: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=mSIOUxcsJ/c

Español:

16 – 25 años: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=fR9T0HBDiGI

26 – 40 años: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=xh+tdmTMm3c

41-100 años: http://www.e-encuesta.com/answer.do?testid=QlhCGiLJCO0

Interview with Justo Aznar Lucena M.D.

We will briefly mention part of the long curriculum of the interviewee, justo Aznar Lucea, Graduate in  Medicine and Surgery in the University of Valencia in 1960 and Doctor by the University of Navarra in Clinical Analysis and Hematology in 1964, with the grade of Award with Special DistinctionAssistant of the Service of Clinical Analysis and Hematology of the Universitary Clinic of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Navarra and helper of Practical Training  of the Chair of Biochemistry and physiology of the same institution. Research Associate in the Centre of Cytological Researches of the CSIC in the 60’s. Afterwards, he held important posts in the old hospital “La Fe” of Valencia, place where he  had the post of Head of the Biopathology Department between 1974 and 2006 (his retirement year). He is a distinguished member of some medical societies at national and international level, as the Spanish Society of Clinical Biopatology, the Mediterranean League against Thromboembolic Disease, The New York Academy of Sciences, between a wide list that can result in a lot more interviews.

 

In relation of bioethics, the subject which we are speaking about, he’s worked as teacher of Bioethics at the Papal Institute for the family John Paul II in the 90’s. Later, he got the post of  Manager in the Life Sciences Institute complementing it with the post of Director of the Bioethics Observatory and of the Oficial Master of Bioethics in the UCV, both in 2005. He belongs to the Spanish Society of Bioethics since 2001.

 

Furthermore he has been awarded with different prizes in the area of bioethics, of which the University Diploma Merit, given by UCV, emphasizes. He is author of different publications about bioethics as “Nascent human life. 200 Questions and Answers”. He has been awarded numerous times, being Price “III Millennium 2007”, given by the Academy of Sciences, Technology, Education and Humanities in the Bioethics area of Valencia in 2007. With such references and his checked experience during his long trajectory, he answers our questions about bioethics.

 

As you are a professional with extensive medical experience, how have you known about the area of synthetic biology?

Well, it was when I read, at the journal Science, the study of Craig Venter in which the synthesis of the genome of the bacterium “Mycoplasma micoides” was described.

 

As regards to the synthetic biology area, are you currently participating in some line of investigation related to it?

Really not, from the Bioethics Observatory we have only confined ourselves to do reports about ethical aspects; we have never done experimental research.

 

What do you think about the state of the art of synthetic biology nowadays?

I consider that, as all advances in sciences, it can have very beneficial results and applications;  however, it can result in applications which can present ethical conflicts. Because of that, we have to consider the technical (biological, biomedical) and the ethical aim to what these researches are intended for.

 

Well, knowing that, what are the challenges that you think that this discipline should tackle and what aspects it should correct referent to make easier its advance and applications development?

Scientific challenges are basically focused on studying in depth and understanding the biological and biomolecular mechanisms which control cellular life; all that could allow, as it has occurred, to create synthetic cellular structures, though for that would be necessary to study in depth the knowledge about these complex mechanisms. And, in relation to the ethical aspect, the priority will be to control the aims for what these experiences are destined.

 

Following the subject about the more potential applications of synthetic biology, it is speculated that other areas could be affected, as environmental bioremedy, industry… There is any area that you think that could be benefited thanks to the synthetic biology studies?

Actually, the area that I know more about is biomedicine. Undoubtedly, synthetic biology will complete the way to gene therapy, due to it could be useful and very beneficial to treat patients with molecular disorders which result in hereditary or chromosomal diseases. In that sense, it will clearly mean a really beneficial advance, among all that we will see that century. Regardless of biomedical area synthetic biology will be able to be applied for the production of clean fuel, food products, hydrocarbon or medicines transformation, among others.

 

Leaving a little your area, as regards industrial applications what is actually more mentioned about a more recurrent and promising use is the production of biofuels that doesn’t affect food supply; like ethanol, hydrogen, other alcohols… Do you think that we really could use bacterium to this purpose? And from that, what application do you think that has more future to turn into a substitute of fossil fuel?

I don’t have an specific idea because this is not my experimentation area, though because of what I have read and stared at, I consider that is a promising area, but it is still in very early and incipient phases. We have to know that, currently, the replacement of fossil fuel by biofuel obtained thank to biotechnology, looking at the number of current production, which I estimate around less of a 10%, gives the feeling that is slim and insufficient. From the ethical point of view, what I surely consider important is to avoid that the use of food resources to biofuel production doesn’t lead to transform farms, deflecting food resources to inadequate commercial or energetic aims. It should be always kept balanced.

 

Speaking a little about environmental applications, it doesn’t stop being paradoxical to public eyes because there is a fear in the public opinion of a possible leak, a lack of control of the product of a group of irresponsible scientists that, as it is normally said, “playing  God”. Do you think that this situation could occur?

I don’t think they’re playing God at all: they’re playing to be honest scientist who realize a practical work which can be useful to the humanity. Being God is something very different. On this side, I believe there are always inherent risks to the same technology in every advance. Then, the objective is to condition the experiments and the technological development to minimize the risks as far as possible, but it is never possible to rule out them, risks are inevitable. I consider that is positive science advances and not stops because of the unjustified fear to the negative consequences that it could have, but always regulating the advance under ethics.

 

If there was a leak or some of these risks came true, what consequences do you think that fact could carry?

I’m not an expert in these areas, but in my opinion, as a man in the street, I consider that to predict and think about the possible consequences it’s difficult. What we have to do it’s to try to provide the means to minimize the risks, but what I yes estimate important is that these risks, that always exist, don’t stop the development of a research that can have beneficial effects for a lot of people. I think that we have to take the risk, always counterbalancing it with its ethic assessment.

 

So the next question is now answered because it would be if the risks could overcome the current benefit.

I think there has to be always, from the ethical point of view, proportionality between risks and benefits. If the assumed risk is higher than the potential benefits, the practice    or the experiment are unacceptable from the ethical point of view; however is the risk is minor that the potential benefit, the possibility should be studied, undoubtedly. This ethical principle goes with all human practices.

 

Nowadays, in any case, the socio-political impact of the applications can be very deep. There are analysts as Juan Enríquez or Jeremy Rifkin that consider that the present century will be the one that attends on the industries of biological sciences, an explosion comparable to previous Industrial Revolutions. Do you think it is like that?

I think in this century we will see really spectacular advances in the area, because the computer advances, all advances derived from molecular biology, the control of the development biology, the modification of cellular types or whole organisms will revolutionize our life in a lot of senses. In the medical area, specifically in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, I think there would be the major therapeutic advances of this century. It seems that indeed, it will have a similar impact to the one that the Industrial Revolution had; but these advances are really unpredictable. E. g., at present, there have been realizing assays of creating artificial hearts: it starts from a rat’s heart, we decellularize by perfusion of detergents and enzymes, leaving only a proteic scaffold that can be refilled with cells of the own patient, so they obtained heart is totally inmunocompatible with the patient, as well as being a heart of better quality than a donated heart. Nevertheless, there is the debate about that all these advances could be not accessible to all people and could result in social differences in function of the purchasing power of people. Synthetic biology can have similar effects, except that it possible to these advances not to arrive to all  people, which could result in social differences in function of the capacity they have to access to these resources. By the same token, synthetic biology can have similar effects, but in this case the differences would be mainly between nations and not between individuals, increasing possible differences between nations,  in so far as the new advances are or not affordable to some countries. Because of that we should guarantee that these technologies don’t increase the current differences.

 

Yes, the assistance shared to all the people in the world.

Or, that these advances developed in these areas are affordable to all people through a correct universal distributive social equity.

 

And, do you think society is prepared in the event of this revolution?

I consider society is prepared to receive all the advances presented, provided they are well presented, and society is informed so that they have a true and enough knowledge about these advances so, they could decide, with freedom, their acts. The information about advances is the key aspect. It has to be complete and acceptable for not experts. We could raise an analogy with a lot of the current economic problems derived by the unfair clauses of the contracts hide in the small print. Enough information should be given so after, so individuals, society and the groups which make up it could exercise their freedom with knowledge. A wide ability of transmission of knowledge is the key.

 

We notice there can be social controversies about synthetic biology that remind what happened at research with stem cells or GMO. There are very polarized opinions, from considering it as amorality until considering it since a transhumanist point of view which tell that these practices are essential to social development. What do you think about that?

As I have said before, information is the most important thing. For example, in relation to the subject about stem cells research, the judgment its use deserve will depend, for the major part, on the given information. For example, if we transmit that with embryonic stem cells we can cure illnesses, people will accept and assume it ethically; still if you transmit real data about the assays with stem cells and you tell them that there are only three realized with embrionary cells in contrast to more than three hundred realized with adult stem cells, maybe we can clarify them what is relevant or not on a level with research and what is ethical. At the end of all it is a responsibility of scientist who manage and develop the technology so people can decide. If, for example, it is said to people that they can cure damages in spinal cords with adult mother cells in a Rio de Janeiro clinic, people would spend their saving due to the research for something to cling and to have a hope. At industrial level it occurs at the same. It is necessary truthful information without ideological slants, only based on scientific reality to be able to balance and value risks and benefits.

 

Nowadays, the area of synthetic biology is developing, so we notice there could be a patentability of living creatures or products derived from them. ¿What do you think about giving patents of living being or product derived from them?

There’s a little time, a high legal body denied or considered negative the possibility to grant patents for experiments which require using embrionary human cells, because it means human beings destruction. In this sense, I consider all what benefit human beings and it’s not based on experiences which present ethic reprobation will be patentable. We shouldn’t be scare of science if it starts from appropriate ethic and by checked techniques.

 

And now, to finish, as regards scientific competitions as the one we are participating in, iGEM, what do you think about? Do you think they are a good way to interest students in these areas and students have more eagerness to continue and do more scientific advances on this area?

In my view stimulating young student with projects that can develop interest and research spirits, is fundamental. Certainly research is, in my opinion, the maxim expression of human intelligence and a great adventure to be able to go more deeply into our own nature. Working on researches that bring objectives and goods to society is something that, by itself, could be catalogued as very positive, what makes it as a fascinating fact. To open the ways by where youths can work on research, to facilitate their access to centers of technique level and to stimulate their research work, is magnificent. Whatever is to facilitate the splendid reality of researching is marvelous. I think there is no better option for an individual than working and investigate on the knowledge of different things that carry benefits for their fellows, that’s research, investigation. As I have repeated at some occasion on different forums, all the work developed on this area, as long as it confines itself to the truth, without tricks or manipulation, is fantastic. And if that is achieved by competitions as iGEM, I think it’s wonderful.

iGEM experiences

Hello everybody!  I’m Meritxell Notari and I’m 25 (almost 26), I’m a Biology graduate by the Universitat de València, later specialized in gentics. I took part on the 2008 iGEM with a project called “The hot yeast Project”  (http://2008.igem.org/Team:Valencia) and I’m gonna telll you which has been my experience with synthetic biology till the present day:

My adventure at iGEM began during the 2007/2008 academic course during a molecular genetics lesson, where a guy called Arnau, introduced us a new concept in biology called sythetic biology, focusing particularly on iGEM . After this, the first thing I thought was: “How wierd! isn’t it? It would be nice to take part on this project!”. During that academic course, 2007/2008, I was part of the Universitat de València’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department Universitat de València, as an intern student, with professor Mercè Pamblanco. I told her my intentions to get into this world,  her answer was unsurpassable and she also helped me in everything she could: contacting advisors, telling when the synthetic biology courses and days took place… from then on everything was rolling on till the day I was told I was part of the Valencia-iGEM’08 Team!

The project with we took part was called “The hot yeast Project”, in which we charaterized a yeast which was able to keep its temperature and, as a consequence, was able to sustain the culture without any external energy input (electricity).We characterized different yeast strains with UCP1 protein (positive control, negative and two strians with different delections) supplied by Eduardo Rial from CIB-CISC. In fact, these strains were able to increase their culture media temperature. Besides, we characterized their growing kinetics and the temperature increasing results adjust with each stran own growing kinetics. This means, the bigger is the time the yeast spends in completing exponential growing phase, longer they spend to increase the medium temperature. Both controls, postitve and negative don’t increase their temperature at all, but they suffer a progressive decreasing of the temperature, as expected according to Newton’s cooling law. These results are on the paper published on  New Biotechonology (Vol. 26, N. 6, December 2009) titled: “Yeast cultures with UCP1 uncoupling activity as a heating device” .

My main work was working at the wet lab, although we were very few people on it, everyboy did all the tasks requiered to reach the project’s objectives.

It was a magnificent summer (with part of spring and autum) that I wouldn’t change for anything at all  and I’d repeat again if I had the chance. All the memories I keep, the best (like the NYC visit with my fellows, dinners, flats, the expected results…) the good ones (watching the job rewarded) and the not-so-good (argument that happen even in the best  of the families) are unique and unrepeatible -and you also can learn from them for your normal days.

It’s true that there are always things that you would change, but I don’t see it as a negative feature but as little details you can change and improve, as some kind of learning.

Whe iGEM is over, when you’re in Boston, yoy think “Guys it’s over! Carpe diem!”. You always keep memories, photos with you fellows, phone numbers you never erase… and all this stuff is coomo to the few lucky ones who have the chance to take part on iGEM. After my participation, I’ve been linked to the following editions: synthetic biology days, different projects I’ve the pleasure to share with different iGEM’08 team members, speaks to explain the project… it’s a feeling you can’t get rid of easily and I don’t want to get rid of.

Despite of the current situation, it’s always a bonus having some synthetic biology rudiements and having taking part on iGEM because, despite scientific world is pretty big, synthetic isn’t. Thanks to iGEM project I took part for a time on the BioModularH2  project, which encouraged me to retake my studies in the genetics field and be able to enrole in certain projects in which, before my iGEM time, I would have not been capable to enrole in

Because of all this, it’s an eperience I wouldn’t change for anything and I strongly recomend to all the studients who want, to take part and to get into synthetic biology. FOr me, make my living from science is a dream and this is a very good bengining to know if you can really live your dream and not daydreaming your life.

Meritxell Notari

 Valencia-iGEM 2008 Team  Member

An evening at Cheste

The iGEM competition demands a part of security or human practices. Along previous years, each team has been improving and increasing this part of the competition having arrived to realize surprising achievements.

The iGEM Valencia 2012 team considered interesting to do some activities focused on the youngest children. The purpose of these activities was to make children know something about the DNA or to amplify their knowledge about it and the synthetic biology. We chose the youngest people because it is a way to relay them the curiosity about this field, managing to make them learn new concepts and ideas at the same time.

Depending on the age of each child, there were arisen different activities and games.

To the youngest, we considered interesting to explain them what was DNA and why all living creatures have it. Once children listened the explanation with photos (to make it easier), we started playing “Paint it!” That game consisted in painting the complementary bases in a giant DNA molecule.

In the next game, we painted them a complementary base in their face so they had to find someone with their complementary base.

To children between 6 and 9, we decided to ask them what they know about DNA, and, depending on their level, we would explain them more about this subject or clarify what they knew. We taught them that all living creatures have DNA and that DNA could be modified.

The first game was with animal cut-outs. Each child had to combine different animals obtaining different combinations. After that, we put children in two lines; one was the line with DNA and the other the line without DNA. Then we showed photos and the line who didn’t match with the photo had to catch the one which matched.

To conclude, the last activities were planned to children within 10 and 13. As always, first of all, we asked them if they knew something about DNA and if they knew something related to synthetic biology. Once children had answered, we explained them correctly the incorrect answers; moreover, we taught them on what consist synthetic biology and why it is important.

For their game, we separate the children in two groups. Each child had a complementary base do DNA painted in his face. Near each group there were water balloons. When the game started the children had to wet their complementary base so the winner was the child who had wet more his complementary base.

The aim of these activities was to learn to transmit our knowledge easily to children while they (and some of their parents) pass a good time learning and playing.

Una tarde en Cheste

El concurso del iGEM exige una parte de seguridad o prácticas humanas. A lo largo de los años, cada equipo ha ido mejorando y ampliando esta parte del concurso hasta llegar a realizar cosas sorprendentes.

El equipo iGEM valencia 2012 le pareció interesante realizar una serie de actividades enfocadas para los más pequeños. En estas actividades se quería dar a conocer/ ampliar el concepto del ADN y la biología sintética.  Se eligieron a lo más pequeños ya que es una manera de intentar transmitirles curiosidad por el campo, además de conseguir que aprendieran conceptos e ideas nuevas.

Dependiendo de cual fuera la edad de cada niño, se plantearon diferentes explicaciones y juegos.

 

Para lo más pequeños, se pensó en explicarles que era el ADN y porque todo el mundo lo tenía. Una vez lo niños escucharon la explicación, con fotos para que les resultara más sencillo, se dio paso al juego: ¡A pintar!. Este juego consistía en que tenían que pintar las bases complementarias una molécula de ADN gigante.

El siguiente juego planteado consistía en pintarles una base complementaria en la cara, de manera que cada niño tenía que buscar a otro que tuviera la base complementaria a la suya.

Para niños entre 6 y 9 años se optó por preguntarles que sabían sobre el ADN, dependiendo del nivel otorgarles mayor información o aclararles aquella que ya conocían. Se les enseño que todos los seres vivos tienen ADN y esté se podía modificar.

El primer juego que se hizo fue con animales recortables. Consistía en que cada niño tenía que combinar diferentes animales obteniendo diferentes combinaciones. Seguidamente, se colocaron a los niños en dos filas, obteniendo la fila con ADN y no ADN. Con la ayuda de fotografías, la fila que no correspondiera esa fotografía corría a por aquella que si era correcta.

Para concluir, las últimas actividades fueron dirigidas a niños entre 10 y 13 años. Como siempre, primero se preguntó que sabían sobre el ADN y si conocían algo relacionado con la biología sintética. Una vez lo niños respondían, los participantes en estas actividades se les explicaba correctamente las respuestas incorrectas, también se les decía en qué consiste la biología sintética y a qué se dedica.

El juego consistió en separar a los niños en dos grupos, cada uno tenía una base complementaria de ADN dibujada en la cara. Al lado de cada grupo habían globos llenos de agua. De esta manera solo se permitía mojar a la base complementaria, ganaba aquel que hubiera mojado más a su base complementaria.

El objetivo de realizar estas actividades fue aprender a transmitir los conocimientos, que se entendieran mientras los niños (y no tan niños) aprendían mientras se divertían.

Biohacking: Do it yourself!

Despite of being a nascent discipline which is yet to be consolidated (not in vane, the massive sequence data obtention and analysis, as well as the metabolic network characterization employed for modelling, are quite recent breakthroughs) snythetic biology is in a position in which is able to influence in many social groups and disciplines as our present case shows us. .

Biohacking was born at the begining of the past decade almost parallel to synthbio (the first open biohacking meeting took place in March 2000) with a firm, radical principle: considreing that the current research structure based basicly in universities and companies is nocive for progress and knowledge democratizing. Due to this, biohackers or “garage genetists” claim another kind of research. These researcher are mostly professional who get tired of ordinary investigation, but they also include autodidact who do not work profesionally on molecular biology but who have decided to join to an enterprise ruled by two fundamental principles: the “do it yourself” spirit (not in vane, many reactants, protocols and equipments are made by biohackers themselves as can be seen on the homemade PCR equpment below seen in futurecamplab.com, being able sometimes to create a full lab for ridiculous costs) and open collaboration: Creative Commons license is ubiquous, everthing is shared and everone gives theis opinion in order to improve.

Imagen

Almost all the biohacking investigations take E.coli as their base (despite of this, many other organisms have gained their own foothold),. All kind of research can be found on biohacking initiatives: biofuels obtention, diagnose methods for iron metabolism diseases, bacteria able to detect the presence of melanin on even new vaccines developpement. Due to this enormous chances, many biohacking advocates proclaim that it could play a major role in a future biotech similar to the one which took place in Silicon Valley and all the enterprises that began in autodidact’s garages (one example that the biohacking advocates usually employ as an argument is the case of Agribiotics Inc, a company founded by a retired researcher on his own garage which ended up sold by a 24,000,000 USD $ value).

Despite of these perspective, most of the scientific comunity considers that biohacking, despite of being an initiative which could ease making society accept molecular biology and the divulgation of all it’s chances, is still far away from becoming a real research alternative due to the studied subjects’ complexity, the aparent lack of formation in may researchers and the lack of standarization on the employed parts.  From the point of view of this blog writers, the dichotomy planted here is fake because, on same way we see on information technologies, we can find many levels (user, professional) on molecular biology); apart from, as we stated before, biohacking’s potentital to divulgate molecular biology is enormous. Another point is that this dichotomy is planted only for the most basical investigation, leaving apart applications developpement, in which these problems, despite of continue existing, are easier to overcome.Preciesly is on the applications developpement problems where synthetic biology can be a really helpful tool thought it parts and chassis standarization philosophy, so with an organism-standarized catalog the circuits design can become something friendly for everyone

References:

http://futurelabcamp.com/

http://wiki.london.hackspace.org.uk/view/Project:Biohacking

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/08/mf_diylab/

http://www.intertech.upv.es/pdf/press/070621_ciberpais.pdf (en español)

Biohacking: ¡Hazlo tú mismo!

A pesar de ser un campo naciente y todavía pendiente de consolidación (no en vano las tecnologías de obtención y análisis masivo de datos sobre la secuencia así como la caracterización de redes metabólicas que se emplea para el modelado son relativamente recientes), la biología sintética se halla en posición de influir en diversas ramas y movimientos sociales como en el caso que nos ocupa.

El biohacking nació a principios de la década pasada casi paralelamente a la biología sintética (el primer encuentro abierto de biohackers se llevó a cabo en marzo del 2000) con un planteamiento firme y radical: la consideración de que la actual estructuración de la investigación en biología molecular en grandes universidades y empresas es nociva para el avance y democratización del conocimiento. Por ello, los biohackers o “genetistas de garaje” reivindican otro tipo de investigación. Estos investigadores son en su mayoría profesionales que se aburren de la investigación ordinaria, aunque también incluyen autodidactas que no se dedican profesionalmente a la biología molecular pero que sin embargo en su afán de aprender han decidido embarcarse en una empresa regida por dos principios básicos: el afán artesano y el “do it yourself” (no en vano muchos de los equipos del laboratorio y reactivos así como los protocolos son elaborados por los propios usuarios llegando a montar laboratorios enteros por costes irrisorios, como se puede ver en el equipo de pcr casero abajo de futurecamplab.com) y la colaboración abierta: la licencia Creative Commons es ubicua, todo se comparte y todos opinan para mejorar.

Imagen

Casi todas estas investigaciones toman como base E.coli (aunque muchos otros organismos se han hecho un hueco en estas investigaciones)  llegándose a hallar todo tipo de investigaciones: obtención de biocombustibles, métodos de diagnóstico de enfermedades del metabolismo del hierro, bacterias capaces de detectar la presencia de melanina e incluso vacunas. Debido a estas enormes posibilidades muchos de sus entusiastas proclaman que el biohacking podría tener un papel importante en un futurible boom de las tecnologías biológicas  comparable al que acaeció con Silicon Valley y todas las empresas que surgieron en garajes de autodidactas (uno de los ejemplos que los defensores del biohacking suelen emplear a modo de argumento es el caso de Agribiotics, una empresa fundada por un investigador retirado en el garaje de su casa que acabó siendo comprada por un valor de 24.000.000 USD $).

A pesar de todas las perspectivas que presenta, el grueso de la comunidad científica considera que el biohacking a pesar de ser una iniciativa que puede favorecer el apoyo de la población a los estudios de biología molecular y divulgar sus posibilidades,  todavía anda lejos de poder ser una alternativa real a la investigación, debido a la complejidad de los sujetos de estudio, la aparente falta de formación de los investigadores y la falta de estandarización de las partes utilizadas. En opinión de quienes escribimos el blog, la dicotomía planteada es falsa ya que del mismo modo que con las tecnologías de la información pueden existir distintos niveles (usuario, profesional) con la biología molecular, amén que el potencial del biohacking para acercar al grueso de la población la biología molecular tal como se ha dicho antes en inmenso. Sin contar que la dicotomía se plantea únicamente en el plano de la investigación más básica, dejando de lado el desarrollo de aplicaciones, en donde los problemas de biohacking a pesar de seguir existiendo, son más soslayables. Precisamente, en la gran mayoría de los inconvenientes del desarrollo de aplicaciones es  donde la biología sintética puede ser una disciplina de gran ayuda mediante su filosofía de estandarización de chasis y partes de modo que con un catálogo más o menos estandarizado para cada organismo, el diseño de circuitos sea algo asequible para todo el mundo.

Referencias:

http://futurelabcamp.com/

http://wiki.london.hackspace.org.uk/view/Project:Biohacking

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/08/mf_diylab/

http://www.intertech.upv.es/pdf/press/070621_ciberpais.pdf (en español)

 

iGEM: why of all this

Despite of our wish for do not having an ending date for our blog (at least initially) so we could share our passion for debates and divulgation, denying that this blog has no reason for existing apart from those which were mentioned before would be totally fake. We can’t deny that, despite of our intention, this blog was born with a predestinantion charge: to serve as a main feature to the human practises for our project for the next iGEM contest .

El logotipo de la competición

iGEM (acronym for International Genetic Engineering Machine) it’s an initiative born in 2003 during the students’ Independent Activities Period in which five teams of students compited in order to make blink cells. In 2004 the competition grew to a contest in which took part 5 different universities from the USA, reaching the international expansion in 2005.

In the following years, the number of participating universites and different functions implemented on the organisms grew so unexpectedly quick that nowadays, near 160 teams from universities from all around the world take part on the competition. On the other side, the number and vareity of applications and circuits designed during the history of the contest till the present day is as big as growing of the contest: bacteria able to detect arsenium in water, Escherichia Coli capable to produce banana or peppermint scents when they detect certain cheimcals on the media or yeast colonies which could act as screen pixels, only to mention some examples. Almost everything has been seen in the contest. Despite of this variety, there a concept which vertebrates every project’s nature: standarization.

At the iGEM projects it’s not enough to copy, cut and paste genes in the random way that classical  genetic engineering does: the engineering approach rules (not in vane, the competition’s director is an Apple ex-engineering) and as important as cutting, copying and pasting the DNA fragment, is to know what does exactly, know with which other fragments can work better, see working optimals and, ultimately, create a parts catalog which eases the job and make genetic engineering a real engineering in which anyone is able to switch parts and reach to desing living beings de novo.

This contest, depsite of its competitive nature, has been the media through which everyone who’s taking part on our project has heard about synthetic biology and alll the chances it offers (not in vane, the organization considers this is the main objective of the contest) but it’s also the way to begin having a real contact with the discipline: designing the synthetic biology, taking care of all the related features (reseach and developping the applications, designing gene circuits, modelizing the circuit as a metabolic network using systems biology techniques) including some features as mundane as searching fundings or bioetich debate, allowing us to present the results on the jamboree, either in the european phase or, if everything works and we have convinced the judges at MIT .

Thus, linking with our intentions declaration, we want you to take part with us, even if you only do so snooping around and asking questions.

More information:

http://igem.org/Main_Page

http://openwetware.org/wiki/Main_Page

http://partsregistry.org/Main_Page

iGEM: El por qué de todo esto

A pesar de que, al menos en un principio, deseamos que este blog no posea fecha de caducidad y queremos compartir el debate y el gusto por la divulgación indefinidamente, negar que este blog no posee otro objetivo aparte de los anteriormente citados sería falaz y falso. No podemos negar que este blog, a pesar de nuestra intención, ha nacido con una carga de predestinación: servir de columna vertebral para los aspectos más sociales de nuestro proyecto para la próxima edición del certamen iGEM.

El logotipo de la competición

Las siglas iGEM (del inglés International Genetic Engineering Machine, algo así como máquina de ingeniería genética internacional) fue una iniciativa nacida en el seno del MIT en el año 2003 (con la biología sintética naciendo como disciplina) durante su IAP (Independent Activities Period) en el cual los estudiantes compitieron diseñando circuitos genéticos que tuviesen por objetivo hacer parpadear a unas bacterias. Al año siguiente esta competición creció para dejar paso a una competición entre equipos de unas 5 universidades, llegando a la expansión internacional en el 2005.

En los posteriores años, tanto el abanico de universidades como de funciones adicionales implementadas sobre los organismos crecieron de un modo insospechado hasta llegar a la actualidad en la que cerca de 160 universidades de todos los rincones del globo participan en el certamen. Por otro lado, el numero y variedad de aplicaciones presentadas hasta la fecha en el concurso es tan grande como el crecimiento del mismo: bacterias capaces de detectar el arsénico del agua, Escherichia Coli capaces de emitir aromas de plátano o menta al detectar ciertas sustancias en el medio o colonias de levaduras capaces de actuar como los píxeles de una pantalla  sólo por citar varios ejemplos. Prácticamente se ha visto de todo en este certamen. A pesar de ello, existe un concepto que vertebra la naturaleza de todos los proyectos: la estandarización.

En los proyectos no es suficiente con copiar y empalmar genes de modo azaroso tal y como se viene realizando en los experimentos más clásicos de biología molecular desde mediados del siglo pasado: el enfoque ingenieril prepondera (no en vano el director de la competición es un ex ingeniero de Apple) y tan importante como cortar, copiar y pegar el fragmento de DNA, es saber que hace con exactitud, saber con qué otros fragmentos puede funcionar mejor, ver óptimos de funcionamiento y en definitiva, crear un catálogo de partes que facilite el trabajo y haga de la ingeniería genética una auténtica  ingeniería en la que poder intercambiar pieza y llegar a diseñar seres vivos de novo.

Este certamen en cuestión, a pesar de su naturaleza competitiva, nos ha sido el medio por el que todos los que participamos hemos oído hablar de la biología sintética y sus múltiples posibilidades (no en vano los responsables del certamen consideran que este es el principal objetivo del mismo), sino que además es el medio mediante el cual comenzar a tener un auténtico contacto con la disciplina: diseñar un proyecto científico de biología sintética, ocupándonos de todos los aspectos relacionados (búsqueda y desarrollo de la aplicación, diseño del circuito genético, modelización del mismo en forma de redes metabólicas recurriendo a la biología de sistemas) incluyendo algunos tan mundanos como la búsqueda de financiación o el debate bioético y permitirnos exponer los resultados en el certamen ya sea en la fase europea o, si todo funciona y ha convencido a los jueces, en el  mismísimo MIT.

Por ello, entroncándolo con nuestra declaración de principios, queremos que participéis con nosotros; aunque sólo sea curioseando y formulando preguntas.

Más información:

http://igem.org/Main_Page

http://openwetware.org/wiki/Main_Page

http://partsregistry.org/Main_Page