Articles In The News — 21 July 2014

Dr. Karmella Haynes, an assistant professor from Arizona State University, was among a small group of scientists who addressed a recent Congressional hearing about the emerging field of Synthetic Biology. In the Haynes Lab at the ASU School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Dr. Haynes is currently involved in synthetic biology research in the hopes of solving some of the world’s biggest technological and medical challenges.

Current regulations “need to be more aligned with technology that is coming from synthetic biology,” – Dr. Karmella Haynes

The goal of the hearing was to raise public awareness of the potential of synthetic biology, including its goals and methods. Haynes was also keen to, in her own words, “inform more people to prevent unfounded fears that might hinder work that has great value for addressing society’s needs.”

Haynes spoke alongside Drs. Steve Evans and Jay Keasling. Dr. Evans is a research fellow working at Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company. As a lab that focuses on sustainable agriculture using synthetic biology, he is in a unique position to address the nation’s policymakers. Evans was recently featured in an issue of Discover Magazine, in which he discussed his work in inserting pest-resistant genes into common plants, in order to avoid the need for damaging pesticides.

Dr. Keasling is the CEO of Joint BioEnergy, as well as a director at the National Science Foundation-supported Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), the organization that in part helped organize this Congressional briefing. He is widely considered one of the foremost researchers in the field of synthetic biology. He is particularly well known for his work in engineering the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast species to produce artemisinin, the active ingredient in anti-malarial drugs. His work clearly demonstrates the potential of synthetic biology. Rather than harvesting artemisinin from its naturally occurring plant, by producing it in bacteria, Keasling and his team aim to lower the cost of anti-malarial drugs by a factor of ten. Already, 50 tons of artemisinin is being produced annually, compared to one ton when it was being extracted from plants.

According to Haynes, current regulations “need to be more aligned with technology that is coming from synthetic biology,” given that it is such a new and potentially revolutionary field of research.

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Dan Lipworth

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