Last week, the blog has discussed about the current reality of synthetic biology, so this week it will talk about whether the synthetic biology is good for whole society.

t01e43e269b8c2dac17In 2012, Nature published an article about synthetic biology and synthetic chemistry. And Jay D. Keasling, the leader of synthetic biology in America, ever made a debate with Phil S. Baran ( a new star in organic synthetic chemistry). The two sides have expressed their own views. However, it is still too early to make a final judgement because the world is changing.

As for chemical synthesis, it can produce some new reagents and lines. The existing chemical laboratory equipment is pretty advanced. The chemical structure can be naturally existed or might be artificially designed, such as materials, explosives, medicines, and so on. Chemical synthesis can be powerful in promoting the development of society. It is obvious to see that chemical synthesis and chemical industry have brought great progresses for human beings. Chemical synthesis process could never be completely replaced by any kind of new technology. At present, the advantages of synthetic biology is gradually emerging, but shortcomings still exist, thus it is difficult to decide which one is better.

So, is synthetic biology a perfect angel or a terrible devil?

On one hand, as for some overly complicated molecules, their synthetic route may contain over 30 reaction steps, or even more. And during the process, some by-products will cause many serious pollution problems. For example, some extremists might create a kind of pathogen, a certain limited virus. And some organisms can leak inadvertently which might cause huge damage to the local ecosystem. Furthermore, the biggest problem of biosynthesis is that its controllability is far worse than chemical synthesis. While on the other hand, biosynthesis can be achieved through microbial fermentation or insects’ cell expression system. All of the processes are completed in the culture medium. And after the beginning of fermentation, it is no longer requires additional manual operations, all people should do is to collect the products after waiting for a certain period of time.

Actually, there is merely a few differences between angel and devil. If used properly, both mature synthetic chemistry and immature synthetic biology can contribute to the development of mankind; while if used improperly, both of them can bring huge environmental problems and even cause some terrible consequences.

To be brief, synthetic biology can either be a angel or a devil, which fundamentally depends on the behaviors of human beings. How to achieve sustainable development? It is a question which requires unremitting efforts and exploration of several generations.