Kelvin Lecture

Kelvin Lecture: Synthetic Biology – One of the Eight Great Technologies

The Kelvin Lecture is one of the most prestigious talks you can give in the UK, so to is extremely exciting to see the topic of digital health featuring front and centre for the 2014 lecture.

Speaking last night was Professor Richard Kitney OBE to discuss synthetic biology. Kitney kicked off by rapidly taking us through the evolution of our study into the human genome, in which sequencing DNA has become not only possible, but possible for am extremely low cost.

Norbert Wiener and Claude Shannon were highlighted as revolutionists of the digital age by Kitner. But now we are in the biological age, thanks to the convergence of digital in this field. Essentially, Kitner is backing what we have been saying for a while now: we are living during the digital health revolution.

Synthetic biology was the topic of the evening and we were taken through the process of designing ‘circuits’ through DNA. And why is this being done? Because these ‘circuits’ can be used as biosensors to detect many health problems, but go an extra step forward and deliver the drug to stop it. And yes, they are experimenting with this technique to kill of cancer cells.

While the cost of sequencing DNA has reduced dramatically, the cost of DNA synthesis remains high. However, Kitner believes this will soon follow the same path of sequencing, and to design DNA will become a low cost activity.

This is good news, as in 2012 synthetic biology was listed by the World Economic Forum I’m Davos as the 2nd most important area to drive the world economy. The UK is only second to the US in terms of the value of synthetic biology on the country’s economy.

Another example – as impactful as the cancer example – is that of the impact of synthetic biology an have on malaria. The Sweet Wormwood plant has the ability to cure malaria. Scientists are now able to completely synthesise the active ingredient in the plant. This process can be used in many other cases and means we can now recreate the awesome power of nature in a lab.

Standards are now being developed for this concept so that biomedicine can be progressed even further. This is good news and means we can expect medicine to make leaps forward and advance a great deal – perhaps even solving the major diseases that plague the modern world.

To find out more, watch the recorded live stream of the lecture here.

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