How's this for surreal: the century-old, highly-respected science journal Nature has now published its first comic book. The subject is "Adventures in Synthetic Biology" (Flash req.), and it covers the adventures of an (apparently eyeless) adult scientist named Sally and her young companion known only as "The Dude" (any references to The Big Lebowski appear entirely coincidental). Sally teaches The Dude how to make things out of DNA modules, explaining as she goes just how this synthetic biology thing works.
Given the context of a comic book, one might imagine that issues of scientific responsibility would go unmentioned. As it turns out, they are mentioned, in the very first section: the scientist gives a warning ("Hmm... are you sure you understand enough about what you want to do? You don't want to make things worse."), which is promptly dismissed by The Dude ("We'll only find out by trying!"). The Dude's first experiment is a spectacular failure -- the chapter is even called "Icarus" in the non-Flash text version -- and the follow-up is the Dude's realization that he needs to learn more before doing anything else. The issue is dropped at that point, and the rest of the comic reads more like a how-to than an adventure.
It's notable that the comic brings up issues of responsibility, however obliquely; I just wish it kept the idea as a theme throughout. If there's a lesson that's good to impart from early on, it's that our ever-more-powerful technologies need to be matched with ever-more-diligent responsibility. Fortunately, the accompanying (pay-only) commentary on synthetic biology asserts that "Synthetic biology... will require community discipline and openness if it is to flourish safely."
Let's hope that's a lesson the Dude takes to heart.
Hey Check out my new blog on BioHacking. It has a section on Synthetic Biology. I think Synthetic Bio is the-next-big-thing after computers revolutionized the way we live.
I am not making any predictions, it is just obvious. The advances in tinkering life will lead us to making Biology work for us in a predictable way. It is like hacking the biology. I call it BioHacking.
Ny blog is located at at http://www.paraschopra.com/blog/biohacking.php
It is still in development, but I think BioHacking (whicj includes sythetic bio) is the future.
It's hardly possible to restrict the availability of technology these days. Yet we can only use technology responsibility within our own realm of influence and insofar as we can foresee its likely effects. Technological applications invariably develop in complex and unpredictable ways, both shaping and responding to humanity.
Thanks for your thoughts on the comic. Agree re: the responsibility thread. Hopefully, we can find time to make a few more installments and come back to this issue as a full chapter (or something). Meanwhile, there's background info. and a free PDF of the full comic online here:
The Dude abides,