Several years ago, synthetic biology was being touted as one of the most important and fast-growing areas of human knowledge. This remains an area of growing knowledge that has the potential to radically change not only our individual lives, but society’s ideas about the term “life” itself. However, as with many areas of current science and technology, discussion is hampered by a lack of common understanding of terms. This is, in large part, a reflection of the growing need for researchers to differentiate their work from others in the competition for scarce research funding.
“Synthetic biology” has yet to make it into the Oxford English Dictionaries. But its component terms are there.
The term “synthetic” applies to products made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product. “Biology” is the study of living organisms. As is more often than not the case with jargon, from a logical linguistic perspective, does not hang together well.
In this case it leads to hyperbolic fears of living organisms created without resort to any biological processes, capable of reproducing themselves. One of the objectives of this discussion over the next months will be to try to sort the language out to bring some clarity to the discussion.