The Michigan Synthetic Biology Team is rewriting the facts of life by altering or even creating new genes. They believe this new science could revolutionize the way we live, from the food we eat and curing diseases, to improving the air we breathe.

Imagine a world where no one goes hungry because food can be grown plentifully, pesticide-free. A world where diseases are easily cured or avoided. A world in which an ordinary-looking seed grows not into a tree, but a house.

That might sound like science fiction, but to members of the Michigan Synthetic Biology Team (MSBT), it’s just science.

Synthetic biology, which has been called “genetic engineering on steroids” by Ron Weiss, director of MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center, aims to create new organic systems that do exactly what we tell them to. Researchers place orders for existing, artificial, or altered genes with a click of a computer mouse, and those genes are delivered to their doorsteps a few weeks later. Then the researchers combine these Lego-like “bricks” of DNA to create genes or genomes not found in nature that have been engineered to perform a specific task of their choosing. The process is a lot like computer programming, just within organic material instead of computers.

Although the science is still in its infancy, members of the MSBT believe it could revolutionize the way we live our lives, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. A lab at UC Berkeley has already engineered bacteria that can help cheaply produce a once-costly medication for malaria, opening up the possibility of a cure for sufferers around the world. And the MSBT wants to go further. 

READ MORE about the team and the role of advisor Lecturer Marc Ammerlaan.