Engineering Life: Building a Fab for BiologyÃ‚Â
Principles and practices learned from engineering successes can help transform biotechnology from a specialized craft into a mature industryÃ‚Â
By The Bio FAB Group
Although the term “genetic engineering” has been in use for at least three decades, and recombinant DNA methods are now mainstays of modern research, most biotechnologists’ work with living things has little in common with engineering. One reason is that the tools available for building with biological “parts” have yet to reach a level of standardization and utility equal to that in other engineering fields. Another has to do with methods and mind-sets in biology, although these, too, can be powerfully influenced by technology.
Electronic engineering, for example, was transformed beginning in 1957, when Jean Hoerni of Fairchild Semiconductor, a small company in what would later be known as Silicon Valley, invented planar technology. It was a system for layering and etching metals and chemicals within silicon wafers using templates called photomasks. This new approach allowed engineers to produce integrated circuits cleanly and consistently and to create a wide variety of circuit types just by changing the pattern on the photomask. Soon engineers could draw from libraries of simple circuits made by others and combine them in increasingly complex designs with a widening range of applications….continued at Scientific American Digital
You can find the entire article here and in the June ’06Ã‚Â issue of SciAm. (Thanks to PaV for finding a copy of the article at Princeton.) This is great reading.Ã‚Â Bio engineering is proceeding along the same lines as computer engineering.Ã‚Â The state of the art in bio engineering is just about at the point where electronic design was when I was 12 years old (1968)Ã‚Â and built my first ham radio from a Heath Kit.Ã‚Â Forest Mims (The Citizen Scientist) might very well have designed that kit.Ã‚Â Anyhow, biological engineering is about to step into the component library stage which the electronics industry entered (my recall) about 1980 or thereabouts if we mark programmable gate arraysÃ‚Â as the beginning.Ã‚Â That step in electronic engineering took about 23 yearsÃ‚Â if we start in 1957.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â I was in the thick of it byÃ‚Â 1980 programming PLAs with happy abandon.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â A friend and I usedÃ‚Â to joke that PLAs (programmable logic arrays)Ã‚Â were the best thing to happen since sliced bread.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Deja vu!Ã‚Â Been there, done that!