Dr. Jon Nakane

From 2011.igem.org

Team: British Columbia - 2011.igem.org

Interview with Dr. Jon Nakane

Engineering Physics Lab Manager and coordinator for the undergraduate robotics course (PHYS 253) at the University of British Columbia. (Engineering Physics Project Lab)

As Scientists, be open and provide clarification when needed.

Dr. Jon Nakane is has stepped up from being the Engineering Physics Lab Manager after Dr. Harold Davis retired in early 2007. Jon has been heavily involved in robotics courses at UBC and brings the same approachability and been-there experience to the table.

1. Do you think synthetic organisms should be released into the wild?

Yes, given the kind of things that the iGEM team is working on this past year. However, there is still a long path between what these products will do and what effect they will have in the wild. It’s almost the same as putting chemicals into the environment. Unintended consequences are always something to keep in the back of your head. Thomas Junior invented leaded gasoline to prevent engine knocking but he also released a lot of CFP’s into the environment. He has had more effect on the environment than any other organism.

2. What standards would you recommend for their release?

Because the consequences are unpredictable, the yeast should not prevent other growths and other animals. Perhaps the team can try their yeast on a small piece of land; however, then there is still the fear that the product can jump outside of it.

3. What challenges are there in terms of attaining public acceptance?

In age and time where Western world wants to hear the word natural and organic, they might be adverse to making changes to making them better.

4. What future directions do you see for synthetic biology?

Project like this year where there is a clear problem, and a way to address it. There are many problems with maintaining the food supply and natural resources. It’s impossible to tell how things will turn out down the road. You can’t know if you were helpful or not for a long time.

5. Do you think we should be rewriting the code of life?

I have no problem with it. Philosophically, I have no issue with people trying these experiments where they take parts and put into another organism. Engineers too have issues with unintended consequences that cause huge effects. But engineers find ways to keep things self-contained. One can have a limited design to prevent things. But in biology, it seems like a greater potential for things to have a much larger effect years afterwards. So, testing should always be done.