The Merging of Bio and Nano: Toward Cyborg Cells

Kavli Futures Symposium I

Symposium Dates: June 11-15, 2007, Ilulissat, Greenland

Synthetic biology and nanotechnology are two of today’s most powerful and versatile emerging technologies. With their common focus on events at a similar size scale – from a few to a few hundred nanometers – they also offer the potential for synergies that might achieve far more than either technology standing alone. Initiated and organized by Cees Dekker and Paul McEuen, who are affiliated with the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience at Delft and the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscience, respectively, this meeting was convened to explore such possibilities. In particular, it would ask whether a convergence of synthetic biology and nanotechnology might soon supply new forms of life: living cells that are either partially or wholly synthetic. How close are we to this goal? What are the major obstacles? What might we do with such entities? And what are the dangers and the ethical dilemmas?

Starting with these questions, the discussion extended to broader issues in science, technology and society. Among the topics raised were the problem of defining life, the potential benefits of nanotechnology to cell biology and other life sciences, and the technological challenges that lie ahead in fields such as energy and medicine. Read Report

Feature Article: North to the Future

2009 Futures Symposium


In 2007, seventeen prominent researchers gathered in Ilulissat, Greenland — a town where dogsleds are common and townspeople sail in a fjord filled with enormous icebergs. The unlikely topic that brought them together: “The merging of bio and nano: towards cyborg cells.” Still, with specialties ranging from single molecule physics to systems biology, scientists from four continents arrived to discuss what would happen as nanoscience and biology blended together at the level of cells and molecules.

Perhaps most intriguing, could it lead to the creation of cyber-life? Read Article