Team:British Columbia/HP nanowrimo


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Latest revision as of 00:28, 26 October 2010

Stories Featuring Synthetic Biology


National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

As participants spend November writing, they can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2009, NaNoWriMo had 167,150 participants. 32,178 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

This year, NaNoWriMo and iGEM are collaborating for the first time to showcase stories featuring synthetic biology. See our NaNoWriMo-iGEM article at the Office of Letters and Light! We hope that through this exchange, iGEM participants will be able to see the range of sci-fi synthetic biology novels written by the public, and NaNoWriMo participants will be able to find out much more about what synthetic biology can achieve by browsing through iGEM projects. Many of the stories on this page tell a futuristic tale about ethical complications when humans decide to synthetically generate and/or alter humans. Although the settings of these stories may be chronologically far away, they pose many questions about the means of synthetic biology research and its applications. And although the idea of humans abusing synthetic biology research to such extremes may seem quite far-fetched at the moment, synthetic biologists should also consider political and corporate parties (such as those in these novels) who may choose to invest in synthetic biological warfare or ethically questionable products.

Some interesting questions to ponder...

Are there any ethical boundaries to the design of synthetic organisms?

What are the ethics when it comes to synthetically generating or altering humans?

What about the use of synthetic biology in warfare, peacekeeping and law enforcement?

Are there any barriers set in place to avoid terroristic applications of synthetic biology?

And before those products even come into existence, are there any ethics regarding research methods and subjects?

What about accessibility of synthetic biology products? Will poor and sick people receive the same benefits? Will synthetic biology just be another way to reap lots of money off the poor in an unsustainable way?

Is synthetic biology going to become a political bargaining chip like other morally grey topics?

As the field of synthetic biology grows, these questions become increasingly real and require increasingly practical answers.