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The turn of the millennium brought a new research landscape in which the biological sciences are prominent and where technical possibilities once impossible are now attainable. Many disciplines, ranging from engineering to chemistry to social science, have all played important roles in shaping the biology of the 21st century. Biology is also now a global endeavor, with networking technologies enabling new sources of collaboration amongst multidisciplinary teams internationally. But the new century also carried with it new challenges, such as the ever-increasing world population. In the face of climate change, increasing food and energy needs, the dispersion of existing and emerging disease and more, lays a host of unanswered questions about how human and natural systems might offer solutions. Thus, scientists and engineers have looked to a young and potentially transformative field, synthetic biology, which seeks to accelerate improvements on how humans partner with nature to meet needs.
Synthetic biology is an emerging discipline that combines both scientific and engineering approaches to the study and manipulation of biology. By asking different questions, synthetic biologists hope to improve our collective capacity to engineer customized biological systems designed to meet specific human needs and yield a deeper understanding of natural living systems. Although synthetic biology is young, the collective vision for the field is ambitious. As a better understanding of the global synthetic biology landscape could lead to tremendous benefits, six academies—the United Kingdom’s Royal Society (RS) and Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), the United States’ National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and Chinese Academy of engineering (CAE)— organized a series of international symposia on the scientific, technical, and policy issues associated with synthetic biology.
Positioning Synthetic Biology to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century: Summary Report of a Six Academies Symposium Series offers an overview of the major topics addressed during the symposia, which included the development and potential of synthetic biology; an explanation of synthetic biology; and the agenda for each symposium.