or processes. Given the unpredictable nature of technological change, it is difficult if not impossible to describe in definite terms what the global technology landscape will look like in 5 to 10 years, both with regard to the emergence of technologies with dual-use applications and the global geography of future breakthroughs. New, unexpected discoveries and technological applications in RNAi and synthetic biology arose even during the course of deliberations by this committee. If this report, with the same charge, were prepared even a year or two in the future, many of the details presented in this chapter would likely be different.
Despite the seemingly disparate and scattered goals of recent advances in life sciences technologies, the committee concluded that there are classes or categories of advances that share important features. These shared characteristics are based on common purposes, common conceptual underpinnings, and common technical enabling platforms. Thus, the technologies outlined in this chapter are categorized according to a classification scheme devised by the committee and organized around four groupings:
Acquisition of novel biological or molecular diversity. These are technologies driven by efforts to acquire or synthesize novel biological or molecular diversity, or a greater range of specificity, so that the user can then select what is useful from the large, newly-acquired diversity pool. The goal is to create collections of molecules with greater breadth of diversity than found so far in nature, as well as with types of diversity that may not exist in nature. The kinds of molecules that might be generated include, for example, enzymes with enhanced or altered activities, as well as molecules composed of “unnatural” amino acids. Technologies in this category include those dedicated toward DNA synthesis; the generation of new chemical diversity (i.e., through combinatorial chemistry); those that create novel DNA molecules (from genes to genomes) using directed in vitro molecular evolution (e.g., “DNA shuffling”1); and those that amplify or simply collect previously uncharacterized sequences (genomes) directly from nature (i.e., bioprospecting). All of these technologies require a subsequent selection step, such that molecules, macromolecular complexes, or even microbes with the desired properties can be identified and isolated from a large and very diverse pool of possibilities. Toward this end, new high-throughput screening (including the use of robotics and advanced information management systems) have become critical enabling technologies.