applied to synthetic biology. However, systems biology is itself an emerging area and may lag behind our abilities in synthetic biology.

VII. Snapshot of Global Landscape

While true “synthetic biology” currently requires the scale and technical prowess embedded in conventional research labs (i.e., government funded), basic genetic engineering is rapidly becoming available to those outside the realm of large research labs via the DIY/ biohacker movement. For synthetic biology, while the United States (in particular MIT, Harvard, Stanford), is currently in a leadership position, ex-U.S. institutes are now on par with them (e.g., ICL, London), and the next generation of scientists is appearing throughout the world as evidenced by the origin of teams entering and winning the iGEM contest for undergraduates. From 2004-2010, countries of origin included Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Panama; Canada, the United States, and Mexico; China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand; South Africa, India; all Western European countries and some eastern European countries. The Grand Prize winning teams over the past five years have come from Slovenia (three times), Bejing, and Cambridge. To date, it appears that the DIY movement has nodes throughout North America and Europe, with a scattering of sites in Australia and New Zealand. It is unclear whether the movement will be able to spread into other parts of the world. Currently, the same infrastructure challenges that slow S&T generally in the developing world would also prevent the DIY movement from taking root there—poor roads, erratic mail delivery, limited electricity, access to the sequences available on the Internet, and so forth. Rather, scientists in those countries are likely to be working within universities where some of the challenges are addressed systemically. In countries where S&T are on the rise within political systems that tightly control access to information such as China, it would be surprising if a DIY movement could emerge as there would be significant impediments to self-organizing via the internet and to obtaining equipment and reagents without state detection. Both the evolution of synthetic biology worldwide and the promulgation of genetic engineering throughout western societies are worth monitoring. At the 5th annual Synthetic Biology conference held in June 2011 at Stanford (SB5.O, sponsored by the BioBricks Foundation), U.S. government representatives included Theresa Good (NSF), Alicia Jackson (DARPA), and Linda Chrisey (ONR). Previous meetings of SB were held in Berkeley (CA, U.S.A.), Hong Kong, and Zurich.

VIII. References

The following is a list of the most highly cited papers published between 2005-2011 (October 2011) containing the terms “Synthetic Biology” in the title, abstract, or keywords. The number of citations of each article is listed to the right.


  • Glass JI, Assad-Garcia N, Alperovich N, et al. 2006. “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103(2):425-430. 234 citations.
  • Benner SA and Sismour AM. 2005. “Synthetic biology.” Nature Reviews Genetics 6(7):533-543. 198 citations.
  • Andrianantoandro E, Basu S, Karig DK, et al. 2006. “Synthetic biology: New engineering rules for an emerging discipline.” Molecular Systems Biology 2, art no. msb4100073:2006.0028. 175 citations.

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