Do-It-Yourself Genetic Engineering” is a great article in the NYT about iGEM, the M.I.T. synthetic bio competition. It follows around a team from a two-year university (the first at iGEM) City College, and how its unlikely scientists got started. The article does a great job showing why one of the best ways to teach science, and get people excited about it, is to make it something they can tinker with and build their own creations:

Genetic engineers have looked at nature as a set of finished products to tweak and improve — a tomato that could be made into a slightly better tomato. But synthetic biologists imagine nature as a manufacturing platform: all living things are just crates of genetic cogs; we should be able to spill all those cogs out on the floor and rig them into whatever new machinery we want. It’s a jarring shift, making the ways humankind has changed nature until now seem superficial. If you want to build a bookcase, you can find a nice tree, chop it down, mill it, sand the wood and hammer in some nails. “Or,” says Drew Endy, an iGEM founder and one of synthetic biology’s foremost visionaries, “you could program the DNA in the tree so that it grows into a bookshelf.”

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