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Last month I wrote about my friend Devin Burrill’s paper about synthetic memory in yeast cells. There were a lot of really interesting questions left in the comments, and I asked Devin if she would write a guest post to answer them. She agreed and here it is, answers to your questions straight from the…

Symbiosis is everywhere. From the Greek for “living with,” symbiosis is simply a close association between two different species in nature. These relationships can be mutualistic, parasitic, or somewhere in between. Bacterial symbionts live inside bodies, like the bacteria that help us and other animals digest our food, and they live inside cells, like the…

Truth Stranger Than Fiction

Yesterday I mentioned Symbiotic Households, an art project imagining genetically engineered mosquitoes that provide mood stabilizing compounds to a population plagued by worries caused by climate change. Today on twitter I saw a link to a US patent application filed by Microsoft about engineering parasites to monitor and maintain human health. The possible engineered parasites…

Engineering Hybrid Silks

There was some big news yesterday in transgenic silk from Notre Dame and the University of Wyoming, where scientists have genetically engineered silkworms to produce silk that is a mixture of spider silk and the regular silkworm stuff. Silkworms produce the strong and versatile silk that is used to make clothes, but spiders produce silk…

So I was browsing the internet for info on G-protein coupled receptors and ended up finding some interesting facts about sperm. It turns out sperm don’t just swim blindly, hoping to randomly bump into eggs. Instead, like bacteria, sperm can sense their chemical environment and adjust their swimming accordingly. Sperm have a sense of smell.…

In the recent articles, blog posts, and comment threads about possible biological reasons for the continued gender disparity in tenured math and science faculty positions, the discussion seems to be divided between two groups: those who emphasize the social and cultural aspects involved in gender and intelligence, and those who emphasize the scientific evidence of…

Transgenic Silk

Silk is an amazing biomaterial, cultivated and prized for more than 5,000 years. The silk threads that we weave into our shiny fabrics are actually enormous protein crystals produced by insects. This industrial silk that you can buy at the mall is made by silkworms, which use the silk to form the cocoon that protects…

The J. Craig Venter Institute has just announced the creation of the first bacterial cell controlled by a genome that is entirely chemically synthesized (PDF). The group has been working towards this goal for several years now, first working out how to synthesize and assemble such large pieces of DNA and how to transplant a…

Thinking About Aliens

Are aliens little green men of unpredictable motives? Horrible insect-like face-hugging, chest-exploding monsters? Are they super-smart, super-slimy, super-fishy, body-cavity-probing, disc-flying creatures, searching for planets to colonize and people to destroy as Stephen Hawking warned, or are they something much more mundane? Could there be alien life already on earth, too microscopic, too different to notice?…

Many people in synthetic biology, including myself and much of my lab, are working on using biology to make things more efficiently, renewably, and sustainably. Being able to make plastic replacing biomaterials, chemicals, medicines, and fuels in living cells from renewable resources (especially in photosynthetic organisms that need only sunlight and water) will undoubtedly decrease…