A couple weeks ago Lehigh hosted two lectures from Dr Drew Endy. Dr Endy earned both his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Lehigh in 1992 and 1994. He went on to get a PhD from Dartmouth in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering and was then involved in setting up the Bioengineering departments at both MIT and Stanford, where he is now a professor. In the talk that I went to he talked about his research in engineering biology and reverse genetics.
Basically he works on figuring out how we can write out DNA to create an organism that has the traits that we want. The problem is that, even though we have sequenced a lot of DNA, we still don’t understand what most of it does. So a lot of his work has been taking the DNA of simple organisms and taking out the regions that we don’t understand and looking at how this affects how well it is able to grow to try and learn what those sequences of DNA do in the cell. He talked about how this technique would help us learn what each gene does more quickly.
A lot of his research is focused on looking at DNA as program that you can write code into. He has been researching the development of standard DNA blocks that can be combined. These blocks have defined biological functions and could be put together to engineer a biological organism. As he explained, this not an easy process, but could allow for some amazing advances in the future.
I also found a comic that he made a few years ago to try and explain synthetic biology to others that you might want to check out called Adventures in Synthetic Biology