26 January 2018
Reprogramming DNA: Professor Paul Freemont lecture
Professor Paul Freemont of Imperial College London gave a fascinating lecture about some of the most cutting-edge developments in synthetic biology.
What if you could use DNA as a digital storage hard drive? What if you could genetically modify probiotic bacteria to make them detect cancer cells in the body? What if you could reprogramme cells so they start producing anti-malarial drugs?
These are the questions Professor Paul Freemont (from Imperial College London) asked Sevenoaks School pupils, parents and teachers yesterday, when he came to deliver a fascinating lecture about some of the most cutting-edge developments in synthetic biology. This is a new field that involves applying engineering principles to biological systems; or, as Prof Freemont eloquently put it, ‘treating DNA as a programmable language’.
So how can DNA be ‘reprogrammed’? According to Prof Freemont, scientists are currently looking at the construction of ‘genetic logic circuits’, in which synthetic regulatory networks are set up inside the cell to control the expression of certain genes and thus allow the cell to perform new functions. This could involve making a particular product (eg the anti-malarial drug artemisinin) or detecting harmful bacteria/cancerous cells in the body. Not only would this revolutionise the efficiency of diagnostics and healthcare, but it would also lead to improved global sustainability.
Prof Freemont ended his lecture by emphasising that the limits of synthetic biology are not technological, but societal, in that the applications and utility of the technology must be understood and accepted by the general public in order for it to have a significant impact in the future.
Juliette Imbert, L6