This Sunday's New York Times Magazine features an interesting piece about a collegiate level synthetic biology competition sponsored by MIT - the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition or iGEM - and our very own San Francisco City College's participation in the event. Go City College!
What is this synthetic biology thingie, you ask? In short, it's the next step after genetic engineering. Instead of fooling around with the DNA of already existing life forms, synthetic biology invites you, the mad scientist type person, to stick together connectable bits and pieces of DNA (aka "BioBricks" - you get them out of a catalogue!) in the hopes of creating new and increasingly more interesting (and useful) forms of life. Yay! We want to play!
The City College team, the first junior college team to ever participate in the event, came up with the idea of genetically engineering a battery out of two forms of bacteria that would interact with the sun in a way that would produce electricity. Pretty super. Particularly as they started out with like no budget or lab or equipment or anything - just good old fashioned, San Francisco style gumption. That gumption snagged them a bunch of donated or borrowed equipment and a grant of $18,000. Still very little compared to the major corporate backing and world class labs to which the other teams have access.
Alas, City College didn't win the competition, but they did get the high five from the academic top tier types who dominate this genetic hootenanny. They also have us now wanting to BioBrick together our own miniature pet monsters we can walk around Duboce Park on a leash. How cool would that be?