Ron Weiss, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, is the co-author of Scientific American’s June cover story, “Engineering Life: Building a FAB for Biology.”

Weiss and his colleagues write that fundamental principles in engineering, when applied to biology, will transform biotechnology into a mature industry. They envision that the advent of flexible, reliable fabrication technology will give rise to the type of manufacturing, or “fab,” system that revolutionized the semiconductor industry.

“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,” the scientists write.

“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….”

“Standardization of methods and components in biological engineering could give rise to design libraries of compatible parts and make outsourcing of fabrication possible. That uncoupling of concept and manufacture would free biological engineers to imagine increasingly complex devices and to use powerful engineering tools, such as computer-aided design, to manage that complexity.”

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