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Synthetic biology is the deliberate design and construction of customised biological and biochemical systems to perform new or improved functions. It draws on a wide range of disciplines and methodologies to design molecules, construct genetic circuits and assemble simple organisms. Many in the scientific community consider that by applying the principles of systems biology, engineering and chemical design to biological systems, synthetic biology will lead to new applications of considerable societal value. Proof-of-concept has already been demonstrated in establishing less expensive ways of producing pharmaceuticals and other high-value chemicals and there are likely to be other early achievements in the generation and optimal use of biofuels. Further ahead there are possible applications of this biological toolbox in biomedicine, agriculture, land and water decontamination, biosensing, new materials, nano-machines and novel approaches to information processing.
However, in some respects synthetic biology has become a controversial area. Concerns have been expressed for the protection of human health and the environment, particularly arising from governance issues associated with biosafety (protecting legitimate users and the environment) and biosecurity (protecting against intentional misuse). Synthetic biology may itself provide the methodologies to engineer additional safety features, for example by creating functional dependency on exogenous regulatory molecules, or by installing systems that cannot interact with natural pathways. Nonetheless, various environmental and other non-governmental organisations have called for greater international oversight, including a moratorium on the release and commercialisation of synthetic organisms and their products.