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New, controversial genetic engineering boosted in S.F. incubator
New, controversial genetic engineering boosted in S.F. incubator
By Stephanie M. Lee
 Updated 9:42 am, Friday, October 31, 2014

Color-changing flowers and cow-free milk may sound straight out of science fiction, but one venture capital firm is betting they’ll be the future of biotechnology before long.

Those are the kinds of quirky, yet potentially useful inventions that the Irish firm SOSventures wants to encourage by mentoring and funding life-science companies in a new San Francisco incubator.
The Bay Area already has a wide network of programs designed to speed up the growth of medical-technology startups. But Indie Bio, which SOSventures plans to open early next year, has an unusual focus: synthetic biology, a growing area of scientific research that involves engineering living organisms for practical purposes. It is a global market that will reach nearly $39 billion by 2020, according to Allied Market Research.
Synthetic biology could be the world’s best bet for tackling widespread problems like food and energy shortages, proponents say. They include Arvind Gupta, a partner at SOSventures and co-founder of the incubator, a 15,000-square-foot space being built on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. Applications are due Nov. 7 to join the first companies in February.

“It’s about reprogramming or rewriting the software of life, DNA, in order to get organisms to do something useful for humans,” Gupta said.

Synthetic biology is not only new, but unregulated in the United States. Environmentalists worry that some products created with these new genetic-engineering techniques could have unseemly consequences if grown in the wild or used by humans. This month, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity urged 194 countries to regulate synthetic biology.

“Our concern at Friends of the Earth is, we need to make sure this is a technology that’s not going to do more harm than good,” said Dana Perls, who tracks the field for the environmental advocacy group.

Scientists have difficulty agreeing on one definition for synthetic biology. Most agree that it involves manipulating or creating living things wholesale, using techniques that are more precise and customizable than those used in traditional genetic engineering.

Adding or modifying one gene to genetically engineer foods such as corn and soy is the kind of genetic engineering that has been done since 1996. On the other hand, adding a set of genes or creating a genetic code that doesn’t exist in nature falls in the camp of synthetic biology. The technologies that have recently made the latter possible include machines that sequence DNA more quickly and cheaply than ever before, and machines that make DNA based on instructions programmed into a computer.

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great article. Thanks for sharing.
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