Towards the engineering of life: from microbiology and biochemsitry to synthetic biology
De KNCV voorjaarsvergadering, gehouden op dinsdag 25 juni 2013, werd georganiseerd door de KNCV, de NBV, en de Radboud Universiteit met de naam Chemistry of life – engineering biology. De ochtendsessie verzorgd door de CHG, Towards the engineering of life: from microbiology and biochemsitry to synthetic biology, was met 40 toehoorders de op één na best bezochte sessie, na de op de onze volgende, en door ons geïnstigeerde middagsessie Societal impact of synthetic biology for our health, food, energy and materials.
Drie interessante lezingen figureerden in het CHG-programma:
Dr. Lesley Robertson (TU Delft): A.J. Kluyver and the Beginnings of Applied Microbiology;
Prof. Ab van Kammen (em. Wageningen UR): Research on DNA, Recombinant DNA and Genetic Engineering during the 1960s and 1970s; en
Prof. Hub Zwart (RU Nijmegen): The Synthetic Cell as a Metaphysical Project.
Tijdens de discussie bleek o.a. nog dat de laatste spreker samenwerkt met Bert Poolman, Groningen, die denkt over een jaar of tien een werkende cel gesynthetiseerd te kunnen hebben, zoals blijkt uit een interview gepubliceerd in C2W. Fascinerend, allemaal.
Hieronder wordt de inleiding tot het programma en de samenvattingen van de lezingen (in het Engels) weergegeven.
Introduction to Seesion
Towards the engineering of life: from microbiology and biochemistry to synthetic biology
The rise of biotechnology, and engineering approaches to life in general, has been the result of an on-going interaction between chemistry and biology. After Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931) had introduced industrial microbiology to the Polytechnic School at Delft (later Technical University Delft), his successor Albert Kluyver (1888-1956) introduced biochemistry into the study of microbiology, thereby creating a ‘unity’ of both fields that had a great international impact.
After the discovery of DNA, in 1953, it was the interaction between biochemistry and molecular biology that drove the field forward. The discovery of rec-DNA techniques opened the road to so-called ‘genetic manipulation’, and later to the new field of ‘synthetic biology’, culminating in the dream of the ‘synthetic cell.’
These developments are a great challenge for philosophy as well. Do they produce a completely new view of ‘nature’? And do they give ‘man’ the possibility to control the future of life? These ancient philosophical questions are highly relevant in the light of the most recent developments.
The session is chaired by Prof. Dr. Rob van Veen (CHG / ex-TU Eindhoven).
Dr. Lesley Robertson, FBS (TU Delft), A.J. Kluyver and the Beginnings of Applied Microbiology (L.A.Robertson@tudelft.nl).
Kluyver made it clear from the start of his Professorship that his interests lay in the physiology and uses of microorganisms, whereas his predecessor, Beijerinck, had followed in van Leeuwenhoek’s footsteps by focusing more on diversity. Kluyver’s research showed how function defines enzyme structure, leading to his most famous publication “Unity in Diversity”. Together with Cornelis van Niel, he showed that taxonomy should include physiology as well as morphology. Among other things, he introduced submerged fungal cultures to improve productivity, and was involved in the development of electron microscopy for microbiology.
Research from the Delft School of Microbiology has provided some of the foundations of applied microbiology (and thus biotechnology).
Prof. Dr. Ab van Kammen (ex-Wageningen UR), Research on DNA, Recombinant DNA and Genetic Engineering during the 1960s and 1970s (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Gene cloning in bacteria by the recombinant DNA technology resulted in the production of large quantities of different genes. It greatly advanced the knowledge of gene structure and the regulation of gene expression and the possibilities of genetic engineering. The power of the new techniques caused the establishment of committees in charge of control on genetic manipulation in various countries, also in The Netherlands, to evaluate the potential risks and possible ethical problems. Guidelines were drafted for the research.
The recombinant DNA technique had an enormous impact on biological and medical research. In addition, the first biotech company was formed in the US and in 1982 insulin and growth hormone produced in E.coli bacteria were put on the market. This success has changed for good the relation of biological research and commerce. The recombinant DNA technique and molecular genetics had found its way to applied microbiology and genetic engineering became indispensable for biotechnology.
Prof. Dr. Hub Zwart (RU Nijmegen), The Synthetic Cell as a Metaphysical Project (H.Zwart@science.ru.nl).
There is a kind of deep metaphysics at work in scientific research. Modern scientists are working in the boundary zone between the living and the non-living, thus challenging some of our most basic metaphysical distinctions. In 1953, the molecular structure of DNA was revealed. Since then, the life sciences have taken a synthetic turn. The most ambitious project so far is the effort to build a functioning and self-replicating synthetic cell from its basic chemical components. This would be a real milestone for biophysics and biochemistry, and great challenge for philosophy. Is nature being redefined as a large-scale, highly sophisticated laboratory that we are finally able to mimic and control? And, why does such an endeavour strike us as highly uncanny?