Recently Dr. Steven Fong and Mr. George McArthur visited Hampden-Sydney from VCU to describe their work in synthetic biology, an emerging field in which microscopic DNA “parts” (genes, regulatory elements, etc.) are standardized in a way so that they may be easily assembled into biological “devices” that can work to colve problems in environmental science, energy, and other fields. Fong and McArthur lead “Virginia United”, a consortium of undergrads from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia State, and Bluefield State College (WV) that have prepared a significant synthetic biology project for presentation at the annual International Genetically-Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition at MIT.
Dr. Fong described a field in its infancy in which the only limit to what can be done is the creativity of the research team. The seminar spurred an interesting discussion on the ethics of synthetic biology research and what controls, if any, the biological community would place on this kind of work in the future. H-SC and Longwood University are working together to begin synthetic biology undergraduate research work, and Fong and McArthur did an outstanding job of conveying their enthusiasm and passion for this work to the H-SC community.