Synthetic Biology: Towards the creation of life?

September 16th 2013


Synthetic biology is an emerging field in science, which combines engineering and biology. Recent advances in the synthesis of DNA, make it already possible to design the genome organism from scratch on your computer and synthesize this genome. Many people are working on the design parts and circuits, so called ‘biobricks’, to add living to organisms. They aim to design parts and circuits based on engineering principles. This development brings several opportunities for our society, such as cell factories for the production of biofuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. But the new approaches and ‘synthesis of life’ by humans brings along risks and ethical questions.
We invited interesting speakers to talk about these topics from different perspectives. Prof dr. Arnold Driessen will address the technical and biological aspects of the theme and dr. Dirk Stemerding will talk about societal implications and ethics. After the break, Pieter van Boheemen will give a short talk from the perspective of a do-it-yourself biologist (also known as biohackers).
This Science Cafe is organised together with the iGEM team of Wageningen University. iGEM stands for International Genetically Engineering Machine competition, in which student teams all over the world spend a summer on building synthetic, biological systems in microorganisms.

Prof. dr. Arnold Driessen is a professor in molecular microbiology at Groningen University, he also received his PhD from this university. His research interest are in membrane biology in bacteria and archaea, and biotechnology of fungi and yeast. He is member of several KNAW committees. Furthermore, he is a key participant of the Centre for Synthetic Biology at Groningen university, founded in 2008. This centre aims to design and construct cellular and biohybrid systems. These systems could for example be cell factories for production of pharmaceuticals pharmaceutical or biological systems for controlled drug delivery. Another example are biomaterials that can act as biochips and biosensors.

Dr. Dirk Stemerding is working as a senior researcher technology assessment at the Dutch Rathenau Institute. He was awarded a doctorate by Maastricht University for his dissertation on the history of biology and worked as an associate professor at Twente University. He is primarily concerned with developments in biotechnology, genomics and synthetic biology. Dirk Stemerding has a special interest in the risks and societal implications of synthetic biology. He is involved in several European projects on the ethics and other issues related to synthetic biology. He was a co-author of the technology assessment on synthetic biology for the European Parliament, titled ‘Making Life Perfect’. Alongside his work for the Rathenau Institute, Dirk Stemerding is a researcher on various projects being undertaken by the Centre for Society and Genomics at Radboud University, Nijmegen.

Pieter van Boheemen holds an MSc degree in Life Science and Technology, in particular bioinformatics and synthetic biology, from TU Delft. He founded the Dutch Do-it-Yourself Biology Community, and he works as a project developer for Waag Society’s Open Wetlab. Here they help Do-it-yourself-biologist that perform (synthetic) biology experiments for fun, often in improvised labs at home. Those people are often called ‘biohackers’ and aim to work in an open source fashion. Next to that he is a co-founder of Amplino, a company that aims to develop biotechnology for developing countries. Furthermore, he was member of the award winning 2010 TU Delft iGEM Team.

Big Jay will bring you a tasteful mix of musical surprises, from sweet elevator music to naughty funk. This new combo fused musical styles from all over Wageningen. Their dreamy jazzy pieces will let your mind drift off into the unknown, but the adventure is always close. Their catchy grooves will sweep you off your feet and provide the perfect intermezzo for an interesting evening of science!


Presentation Arnold Driessen 16 Sept 2013
Presentation Dirk Stemerding 16 Sept 2013
Presentation Pieter van Boheemen 16 Sept 2013


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Exploring and discussing science with professionals, funky music and a drink.