If we look at it purely from the scientific point of view we can say that even from Robert Hooke who used the microscope to discover the cell, the science of biology has continually developed alongside new technologies. The discovery of the double helix and the structure of DNA and all the other milestones of scientific progresses led to the understanding that we could cut and paste genetic information from one organism to another. Early genetic experiments progressed to experiments by modern biologist like Craig Venter, who took a synthetic genome put it into a cell and replaced the old genome that was in the cell, and it started to reproduce. They then examined the new cells and discovered that the synthetic genome had completely replaced the organic one. So to use the computer metaphor – which is quite popular in these studies – we took the hardware of the cell and we changed the software. For a biologist this is very crude. This idea of synthetic biology being an engineering approach to nature – what people find quite frightening – actually is too simplistic. Engineering implies that you know everything that can happen, like you would know that a building will stand even in an earthquake. But how can a synthetic biologist or engineer know what impact of this very long sequence can have on the organism, on the whole environment? The word engineering was kind of being cut out because many people were quite afraid of this – genetic engineering if you remember is what’s called during the past decades. Synthetic biology is partly an attempt by science to reframe this whole field and separate it from the public relations disaster of Genetic Engineering....."
*The exhibition “Yours Synthetically” is all about the thematic topic of synthetic biology*
by MARTIN HIESLMAIR
"Mr. Gardiner, as we are doing this interview you are collecting artistic works for the next exhibition at the Ars Electronica Center with the English title called “Yours Synthetically” that deals with synthetic biology. Why is this topic so relevant for us nowadays?