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Synthetic Biology: Engineering Living Cells with New Capabilities, Feb 16

Just as chemistry dominated the 19th century, and physics the 20th century, many predict that the 21st century will be “the century of biology.” Indeed, the last few decades have brought dramatic increases in our understanding of the complex blueprints of living cells, discoveries that were enabled by foundational technologies such as DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis. Building upon both these technologies and discoveries, a new field called synthetic biology has emerged. Synthetic biology applies engineering principles to biology so that we can test our current understanding of cell design and build cells with new capabilities. Synthetic biologists believe that this new technology has the potential to transform such industries as medical therapeutics, energy, and manufacturing.

Synthetic biology is a rapidly growing field; each year more and more young scientists are getting involved. Many participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition, or iGEM, an annual worldwide competition involving thousands of undergraduates. These students compete to build novel biological systems capable of performing useful tasks.

For this talk, iGEM team mentor John Dueber, who is also a professor of synthetic biology at UC Berkeley, will explain the science behind this emerging field. John will also highlight an example of how Jay Keasling’s laboratory used synthetic biology to create a low-cost drug to treat malaria. As John’s special guests, student members of the UC Berkeley iGEM team will describe how they built, tested, and presented this year’s iGEM project, eventually winning first prize in the iGEM Americas West Regional Jamboree in October 2012.

This free public talk is presented as part of the monthly “Science@Cal Lecture Series”.