Sunday, May 18, 2008

Revolutions in biology futures

Biology is continuing its progression from art to information science to engineering problem. As with many technology areas, advances in tools are driving a new era of science, and tools, science and paradigms are all evolving in biology.

DNA Sequencing
The technology for reading DNA, sequencing, is continuing to outpace Moore’s Law. Next-gen high-throughput sequencing leader Pacific Biosciences estimates their 15-minute $1000 genome solution will be on the market in 2013, more than surpassing the Archon X Prize requirements (100 people, 10 days, $10,000 per person).

DNA Synthesizing
The technology for writing DNA, synthesizing, is also extending its capability exponentially. The traditional methods involve laborious manual molecular biology tricks, oligonucleotide synthesis plus ligation, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and polymerase assembly. These approaches have been supplanted by printing the code directly from a computer or ordering it from any of the 70 worldwide DNA synthesis foundries like Tech Dragon doing a billion dollars of business annually.

Personalized genomics and synthetic biology
The two biggest current revolutions are in personalized genomics and synthetic biology. Therapies are only in the early stages of development but personalized genetic information has the possibility of upstreaming healthcare to tailored medication and preventative interventions. Synthetic biology is using engineering to design and construct biological parts, devices and systems. The field has been developing a foundational library of standard and reliable open-source building block components; to date hundreds have been contributed to the Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

Scientific method yields to combinatorics
In any of the vast areas where biology is now an information science, empiricism and simulation are replacing the traditional scientific method. Instead of hypothesis and trial and error, nearly limitless combinations can be tested and studied for objective understanding of biological phenomena.

A more detailed look at Biology Futures is available here.


Anonymous said...

thanks for this post - I'm getting enticed by all the recent effervescence in the fields of 1)biology and 2)earth systems. Kind of fitting that both are growing at around the same time, as they're obviously connected.

My main concern though is that everyday folk like us who don't know a genome from a garden gnome are going to be screwed over when, in the future, we have to make an informed choice about our own biologies. I mean, is high school biology being expanded to include ethics and laws around genomics for example? Are future generations going to be taught more about the technologies involved (sequencing, etc)? I hope so...