Synthetic Biology and Its Envisioned Significance for Modern Medicine

  • Matthias BraunEmail author
  • Jens Ried
  • Peter Dabrock
Living reference work entry


Synthetic Biology (SB) is one of the leading branches within the current bundle of emerging biotechnologies. Following the hypothesis that the further development of SB will be negotiated at the interface of science and society, this chapter points out the current developments and challenges within SB by addressing the scientific as well as the societal issues.


Intellectual Property Synthetic Biology Genetic Circuit Societal Challenge Nuffield Council 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work is part of the MaxSynBio Consortium, which is jointly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Max Planck Society.


  1. Altaf-Ul-Amin M, Afendi FM, Kiboi SK, Kanaya S (2014) Systems biology in the context of big data and networks. BioMed Res Int. doi:10.1155/2014/428570Google Scholar
  2. Aurand TC, Russell MS, March JC (2012) Synthetic signaling networks for therapeutic applications. Curr Opin Biotechnol 23(5):773–779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bar-Yam S, Byers-Corbin J, Casagrande R, Eichler F, Lin A, Oesterreicher M, Regardh P, Turlington RD, Oye KA (2012) The regulation of synthetic biology. A guide to United States and European Union regulations, rules and guidelines. SynBERC and iGEM Version 9.1, 10 Jan 2012 [Online]. Available: Accessed 29 Oct 2014
  4. Biobricks Foundation (2013) Frequently asked questions [Online]. Available: Accessed 31 Oct 2014
  5. Boyd D, Crawford K (2012) Critical questions for big data. Inf Commun Soc 15(5):662–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carothers JM (2013) Design-driven, multi-use research agendas to enable applied synthetic biology for global health. Syst Synth Biol 7(3):79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carrier M, Nordmann A (2011) Science in the context of application: methodological change, conceptual transformation, cultural reorientation. In: Carrier M, Nordmann A (eds) Science in the context of application. Springer, Dordrecht/New York, pp 1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen YY, Galloway KE, Smolke CD (2012) Synthetic biology: advancing biological frontiers by building synthetic systems. Genome Biol 13:240–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coady CAJ (2009) Playing God. In: Bostrom N, Savulescu J (eds) Human enhancement. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 155–180Google Scholar
  10. Cole JA (2014) Synthetic biology: old wine in new bottles with an emerging language that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous? FEMS Microbiol Lett 351:113–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dabrock P (2009) Playing God? Synthetic biology as a theological and ethical challenge. Syst Synth Biol 3:47–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dabrock P (2012) Privacy, data protection, and responsible government. Key issues and challenges in biobanking. Public Health Genomics 15:227–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dabrock P, Braun M, Ried J (2013a) From functional differentiation to (re-)hybridisation. The challenges of bio-objects in synthetic biology. In: Greif H, Weiss M (eds) Ethics – society – politics. De Gruyter, Berlin, pp 347–379Google Scholar
  14. Dabrock P, Braun M, Ried J, Sonnewald U (2013b) A primer to ‘bio-objects’: new challenges at the interface of science, technology and society. Syst Synth Biol 7(1–2):1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dana GV, Kuiken T, Rejeski D, Snow AA (2012) Synthetic biology: four steps to avoid a synthetic-biology disaster. Nature 483:29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Acatech, Deutsche Akademie Der Naturforscher Leopoldina (2009) Synthetic Biology Online. Available: Accessed 27 Oct 2014
  17. Deutscher Ethikrat (2014) Biosecurity – freedom and responsibility of research [Online]. Available: Accessed 27 Oct 2014
  18. Douglas T, Savulescu J (2010) Synthetic biology and the ethics of knowledge. J Med Ethics 36:687–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Douglas CMW, Stemerding D (2013) Governing synthetic biology for global health through responsible research and innovation. Syst Synth Biol 7:139–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dworkin R (2000) Sovereign virtue. The theory and practice of equality. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Dzieciol A, Mann S (2012) Designs for life: protocells models in the laboratory. Chem Soc Rev 41:79–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. European Commission (2014): Special Eurobarometer 419: public perceptions of science, research and innovation [Online]. Available: Accessed 27 Oct 2014
  23. Gibson DG, Glass JI, Lartigue C, Noskov VN, Chuang R-Y, Algire MA, Benders GA, Montague MG, Ma L, Moodie MM, Merryman C, Vashee S, Krishnakumar R, Assad-Garcia N, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Denisova EA, Young L, Qi Z-Q, Segall-Shapiro TH, Calvey CH, Parmar PP, Hutchison CA, Smith HO, Venter JC (2010) Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome. Science 329(5987):52–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hansen SG, Ford JC, Lewis MS, Ventura AB, Hughes CM, Coyne-Johnson L, Whizin N, Oswald K, Shoemaker R, Swanson T, Legasse AW, Chiuchiolo MJ, Parks CL, Axthelm MK, Nelson JA, Jarvis MA, Piatak MJ, Lifson JD, Picker LJ (2013) Profound early control of highly pathogenic SIV by an effector memory T-cell vaccine. Nature 473(7348):523–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hollis A (2013) Synthetic biology: ensuring the greatest global value. Syst Synth Biol 7:99–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jones RAL (2014) Reflecting on public engagement and science policy. Public Underst Sci 23(1):27–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kamm RD, Bashir R (2014) Creating living cellular machines. Ann Biomed Eng 42(2):445–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Krom RJ, Bhargava P, Lobritz MA, Collins JJ (2015) Engineered phagemids for nonlytic, targeted antibacterial therapies. Nano Lett 15(7):4808–4813CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kueh H, Rothenberg E (2012) Regulatory gene network circuits underlying T cell development from multipotent progenitors. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med 4:79–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Liang TJ (2013) Current progress in development of hepatitis C virus vaccines. Nat Med 19(7):869–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maherali N, Ahfeldt T, Rigamonti A, Utikal J, Cowan C, Hochedlinger K (2008) A high-efficiency system for the generation and study of human induced pluripotent stem cells. Cell Stem Cell 3:340–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mandell DJ, Lajoie MJ, Mee MT, Takeuchi R, Kuznetsov G, Norville JE, Gregg CJ, Stoddard BL, Church GM (2015) Biocontainment of genetically modified organisms by synthetic protein design. Nature 518(7537):55–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marx V (2013a) Biology: the big challenges of big data. Nature 498:255–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marx V (2013b) Genomics in the clouds. Nat Methods 10(10):941–954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. National Research Council & National Academy Of Engineering (2013) Positioning synthetic biology to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Summary report of a six academies symposium series. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  36. Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2012) Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and the public good [Online]. Available: Accessed 24 Oct 2014
  37. OECD (2014) Emerging policy issues in synthetic biology [Online]. OECD Publishing. Available: Accessed 30 Oct 2014
  38. Oye KA, Wellhausen R (2009) The intellectual commons and property in synthetic biology. In: Schmidt M (ed) Synthetic biology. Springer, Berlin, pp 121–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pauwels E (2009) Review of quantitative and qualitative studies on U.S. public perceptions of synthetic biology. Syst Synth Biol 3:37–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pauwels E (2013) Public understanding of synthetic biology. BioScience 63(2):79–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pearson B, Snell S, Bye-Nagel K, Tonidandel S, Heyer LJ, Campbell AM (2011) Word selection affects perceptions of synthetic biology. J Biol Eng 5:9–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pei L, Gaisser S, Schmidt M (2012) Synthetic biology in the view of European public funding organisations. Public Underst Sci 21(2):149–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prainsack B (2014) Understanding participation: the ‘citizen science’ of genetics. In: Prainsack B, Schicktanz S (eds) Genetics as social practice. Ashgate, Farnham, pp 147–164Google Scholar
  44. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (2010) New directions the ethics of synthetic biology and emerging technologies Online. Available: Accessed 27 Oct 2014
  45. Purnick PE, Weiss R (2009) The second wave of synthetic biology: from modules to systems. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 10:410–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Qi LS, Arkin AP (2014) A versatile framework for microbial engineering using synthetic non-coding RNAs. Nat Rev Microbiol 12:341–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rerks-Ngarm S, Pitisuttithum P, Nitayaphan S, Kaewkungwal J, Chiu J, Paris R, Premsri N, Namwat C, De Souza M, Adams E, Benenson M, Gurunathan S, Tartaglia J, Mcneil JG, Francis DP, Stablein D, Birx DL, Chunsuttiwat S, Khamboonruang C, Thongcharoen P, Robb ML, Michael NL, Kunasol P, Kim JH (2009) Vaccination with ALVAC and AIDSVAX to prevent HIV-1 infection in Thailand. N Engl J Med 361(23):2209–2220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ruder WC, Lu T, Collins JJ (2011) Synthetic biology moving into the clinic. Science 333:1248–1252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schadt EE, Linderman MD, Sorenson J, Lee L, Nolan GP (2010) Computational solutions to large-scale data management and analysis. Nat Rev Genet 11:647–657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schmidt M, Ganguli-Mitra A, Torgersen H, Kelle A, Deplazes A, Biller-Andorno N (2009) A priority paper for the societal and ethical aspects of synthetic biology. Syst Synth Biol 3:3–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schuldiner M, Itskovitz-Eldor J, Benvenisty N (2003) Selective ablation of human embryonic stem cells expressing a “suicide” gene. Stem Cells 21:257–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tillich P (1963) Systematic theology, volume three: life and the spirit history and the kingdom of God. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  53. van den Belt H (2013) Synthetic biology, patenting, health and global justice. Syst Synth Biol 7:87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vohra P, Blakey G (2013) Easing the global burden of diarrhoeal disease – can synthetic biology help? Syst Synth Biol 7(3):73–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weber W, Fussenegger M (2012) Emerging biomedical applications of synthetic biology. Nat Rev Genet 13:21–35Google Scholar
  56. Wilholt T (2012) Die Freiheit der Forschung. Begründungen und Begrenzungen. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.MGoogle Scholar
  57. World Health Organization (2010) Responsible life sciences research for global health security. A guidance document [Online]. Geneva. Available: Accessed 29 Oct 2014
  58. World Health Organization (2013) Informal consultation on dual use research of concern [Online]. Available: Accessed 29 Oct 2014

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of TheologyFriedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-NurembergErlangenGermany

Personalised recommendations