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Life sciences/Molecular biology/Synthetic biology/Artificial genomes

A few years ago, while working on the Personal Genome Project at Harvard Medical School, Jason Bobe began to see a new outline for the future of biotech: The technologies were quickly getting more and more powerful, and less and less costly. It was only a matter of time before almost anyone with an interest could have DNA sequencing equipment in their own homes.

Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics. Back in March, however, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics—the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In recognition of the conceptual ground this experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it, and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010.

Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics. Back in March, however, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics—the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In recognition of the conceptual ground this experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it, and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010.

“Synthetic biology”—the process of fundamentally altering life or creating new life forms—offers “mind-boggling” possible benefits to humanity, but they must be weighed against bioterrorism and others risks that remain largely unknown and difficult to define, bioethicist Thomas H. Murray said at AAAS.

“If I didn’t think the potential benefits… were massive, there would be no point in having this conversation,” said Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Hastings Center. “We should just not do it.”

Scientists have developed the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome, and now hope to use this method to probe the basic machinery of life and to engineer bacteria specially designed to solve environmental or energy problems.

The study was published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday, 20 May. The Science authors discussed their findings in a Thursday press conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.