Friday, June 17, 2016

Traveler's Blues

Today, I stepped onto my 60th airplane of the year.  I'm on my way to celebrate my cousin's wedding, which is fun and awesome, but all the same, I'd prefer not to have such a comfortable familiarity with airports right now.  The Cedar Rapids gate personnel and I are starting to recognize one another and learn one another's names.

Wheels down for landing at O'Hare

Sixty airplanes in 24 weeks: that's more than two airplanes per week.  Of course, it's a bit more bursty than that, since flying out of Iowa means I basically always connect, so each trip is generally four flights.  Still, that means on average I'm taking a trip more than twice a month, and I'd really prefer to not be doing that.

It's hard to say what I would drop in order to reform my life to be more stationary, however.  Individually, every one of those trips has been a good idea.  Collectively, I am saturated.  When I am at home on a weekend, I don't much want to go anywhere or do anything.  Hang out with my wife and daughter, go for a long walk in the cornfields or the woods, read silly articles on the internet.

It feels almost shameful to me to even voice this complaint, since at its root is having a career that seems to me to be going quite well, that affords me opportunities to go all sorts of places and talk to really awesome people about things that I find interesting, and that also provides me with resources enough to go to visit my relatives and friends on special occasions.  These choices in my life, however, do come with costs, and those costs exact a toll on my body, mind, and spirit.  

I'm happy that I'm flying to Maine right now, and I also wish that I could be snugged up at home on the couch, scritching a cat curled up in my lap and contemplating nothing in particular.

Podcast on adoption of SBOL by ACS Synthetic Biology

Following up on my recent post announcing the official adoption of SBOL by the ACS Synthetic Biology, the journal has just posted an interview with me and Nathan Hillson on SBOL.  Have a listen and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

A big step forward for engineering in synthetic biology

Today the synthetic biology community took a big step forward in its progress towards being a mature engineering discipline.  As of today, ACS Synthetic Biology became the first scientific journal to officially adopt standards for how genetic constructs should be depicted and how the designs of engineered organisms should be recorded and shared.

ACS Synthetic Biology chose to adopt the two current Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL) standards.  The journal's author guidelines are being adjusted to state that genetic constructs should be depicted using SBOL Visual and that SBOL 2 is the preferred format for nucleic acid sequences.

Wider adoption of standards like these is critical for moving the engineering of living organisms from being a delicate craft, practiced with great difficult and uncertainty, toward becoming a familiar and reliable part of our capabilities as a species.  Effective engineering demands clear communication and the ability to integrate components from many sources.  Safe and ethical engineering practices demand them even more so.

As a species, we've made the transition from guild craft to engineering discipline with stone and iron, with bridges and buildings, with electricity and even radiation. Step by step we are on our way to doing the same with biological organisms.