A Grand Challenge in Biology

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Science  02 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6047, pp. 1200
DOI: 10.1126/science.1213238

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Richard Feynman, a brilliant Nobel Prize–winning physicist, is often quoted for his statement that “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” The remarkable advances in our knowledge of the chemistry of life achieved in the past few decades, published in Science and many other journals, could lead nonexperts to assume that biologists are coming close to a real understanding of cells. On the contrary, as scientists learn more and more, we have increasingly come to recognize how huge the challenge is that confronts us. In this special issue, we review the progress made in the decade-old field called synthetic biology, which, as Feynman would advocate, creates biological networks in order to help us understand, and in some cases redesign, living systems. Along with its promise for the biotechnology industry, synthetic biology has the potential to become a powerful new tool for the long-term fundamental research needed to more effectively create breakthroughs in improving human health and welfare and the environment.*