Dr. Julian Davies

From 2011.igem.org

Team: British Columbia - 2011.igem.org

Interview with Dr. Julian Davies

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, UBC Microbiology and Immunology department (Dr. Davies' Bio)

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

I think genetic engineering has been of enormous benefit to human kind. I think it’s going to be even more beneficial when people advance the field. You can come up with negative scenarios about the effects of genetic engineering, but I don’t think that has manifested yet.

2. What standards would you recommend for their release?

The first standard: what you make is something that would not harm a healthy or unhealthy human. One should not create new pathogens. The current pathogens are perfectly capable of wiping us out.

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

There are major challenges. The real challenge is lack of understanding. People are suspicious of scientists because they watch too many movies. It’s important that science do a better job of telling people what’s being done and what’s good. The Monsanto corn incident was a big mistake because it was bad exposition to the public. A lot of things are not true in terms of what genetically modified things can do.

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

I think the field has enormous potential. You then create classes of industrial organisms which can be controllable (they can’t survive in the wild). What kind of problems can you expect? If you have an e. coli that makes alcohol. If it gets in my gut, will I get perpetually drunk? These are extreme scenarios. Unless you educate people properly and instruct them, you face these kinds of hypotheses.

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

Why not? Different bacteria can already modify the genetic code. People born with genetic diseases are already modified in their genetic code and you have to change it to keep them alive. The extremes are in synthetic biology where one is trying to make very effective expression systems for overproduction. I don’t see why changing the code is not something that’s convenient. By doing plant crosses, are we not doing this exact thing? There’s real advantages to that. All I can see is changing the code for efficiency for industrial processes and I don’t see a problem with that. There’s the case of people modifying their genetic code to make them more intelligent, but that’s currently science fiction.