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What’s in a name? What is Synthetic Biology? And how does it fit with Biomedical Engineering

What’s in a name? Juliet urged. The famous line from William Shakespeare’s play, “That which we call a rose by any other term would smell as sweet,” describes how irrelevant Romeo’s rival family name Montague is. This may be compared to the arbitrary nature of the names given to the sciences of biomedical engineering and synthetic biology. Would artificial or manufactured biology still be connected with the same sociological and scientific considerations as synthetic biology?

Like me, you may have heard the cliched physical-centric statement that all biology is chemistry and all chemistry is physics from your high school physics teacher. This might be accurate in a certain sense, but why are these broad fields specified separately?

Why aren’t all science courses categorized under the physics or math departments? Why is it crucial to have these fields defined precisely in the first place? Is synthetic biology just the latest term to revive interest in the biomedical engineering area, which is already established?

Synthetic biology (SB) and biomedical engineering (BME)

Synthetic biology (SB) and biomedical engineering (BME) are two different but also somewhat related fields. It is challenging to distinguish between the two because of their interdependence. Multiple definitions may apply to each term in multidisciplinary subjects.

BME is described as “-the application of engineering principles and design concepts to medicine and biology for healthcare objectives” by Wikipedia. In order to create artificial biological systems for research, engineering, and medical applications, synthetic biology is defined as an interdisciplinary discipline of biology and engineering.

Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, these fields are not entirely mutually incompatible. Were these fields divided and given labels to impress funding organizations? It is unclear from these definitions whether these two fields are indeed distinct from one another or are merely subdisciplines of one another.

Some people think synthetic biology is sometimes unfairly compared to genetic engineering (without trivializing the latter), when in reality it may just be a change or rearrangement of already existing biological systems. In genetic engineering, it is believed that the transferred gene still performs the same function as it does in nature, such as producing human insulin in bacteria, whereas synthetic biology produces end products with unique or innovative activities.

By establishing synthetic biology as a technical discipline distinct from systems biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology, we shift our society’s perspective on this field of biology from one of natural understanding to one of means and objectives.

Since synthetic biology is more interested in the application of biology to construct useful systems capable of fulfilling requirements or wants in a changing society, this perception may arouse interest in the general public and those responsible for supporting new areas of research.

The definition of a new scientific field as different from already established fields, in addition to the allocation of money and resources, may advance the proper intellectual information transfer in addition to the multi-sector translation.

Returning to the connection between synthetic biology and BME, a layperson may mistakenly believe that the two concepts are interchangeable. However, their boundaries are more distinct from the separate scientific communities. Synthetic biology, which has historically been dominated by molecular biologists, focuses on creating biological systems that do not exist in nature through genetic engineering.

On the other hand, biomedical engineers are thought of as engineers first and biologists second. They typically have a native language in math and physics rather than cellular biology and medicine. While synthetic biology handles these healthcare difficulties, as well as problems from several other sectors, organically, frequently using modified biomolecules or living cells, BME is primarily focused on creating inorganic answers. When it comes to applications, engineers are assumed to be thinking about a finished, commercial product, whereas synthetic biologists frequently utilize synthetic biology as a tool to better understand natural systems.

To achieve decoupling, or the ability for individuals working on separate components of a bigger project to take the other components for granted, a bridge between synthetic biology and BME, as well as other related sciences, is necessary.

By doing this, a particular field or research team is not constrained by the scope of its technical knowledge when determining what it can produce. Instead, those involved in the design of future synthetic biological systems are not restricted to the areas in which they are themselves experts; rather, higher-level systems can be created by applying the knowledge of many different experts, each of whom contributes a single component, or abstraction as some have dubbed it.

This philosophy may, however, be oversimplified and intrinsically ignorant of real biological systems because of their inorganic mechanical structure and disregard for intricate biological relationships, the context-dependence of individual pieces, and environmental responses. Although conceptualizing developed biological systems or organisms as modular units may be cool, actual, frequently unexpected interactions between implemented pieces might thwart intended design outcomes and necessitate constant modification.

It might be challenging to define what belongs and doesn’t belong in the domains of synthetic biology and BME. Their notion of a construct could appear to be bureaucratic. However, as was previously indicated, it is useful to seek out specific definitions for these subdisciplines, particularly concerning the regulatory classification of ethics, safety, and security as well as funding and intellectual property management.

These regulatory classification issues may differ in how medical devices are classified as health treatments compared to engineered cells and biomolecules, as well as in how the laws governing the patenting of medical devices are different from those governing engineered genetic information and living things.

The boundaries between BME and synthetic biology should be melted even though there may be some benefits to keeping them distinct when discussing future educational initiatives, technological innovation, and collaboration. Similar to how chemistry was used to create the fields of synthetic chemistry and chemical engineering in the 19th century, which helped with the synthesis of early drugs and the manufacture of consumer products, synthetic biology may be the next logical step in the advancement of science.

Similar to the earlier transition from analytic to synthetic chemistry, synthetic biology might be the result of our improved understanding of analytic biology. The resulting economic and societal significance of synthetic biology should not be understated, as was the case with the explosion of synthetic chemistry. Synthetic biology’s influence extends much beyond the medical profession to include the environment, agriculture, computers, and data management fields. It also combines biomedical engineering methods and understanding.

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