Purpose: This articles provides an overview of synthetic biology including its roots, motivation, and safety concerns.
We already have a "parts-list" for the cell and are now able to begin to understand how these parts interact to form complex systems (living organisms). This is what synthetic biology does; it puts the pieces back together. So, the goal of synthetic biology is two-fold: to test our knowledge of biological systems by simply building these systems from the bottom-up and to create novel biological systems for practical purposes, to solve problems.
Synthetic biology can be likened to electrical and computer engineering (the cell is a computer, which is composed of circuits and other well understood components). In addition, it can be related to synthetic chemistry, which involves synthesizing more complicated compounds from simpler, more available components. By extension, synthetic biology involves synthesizing new biological systems (eventually including organisms that have never existed in nature) from a set of well-understood components (e.g., the Registry of Standard Biological Parts).
There are legitimate safety concerns that will definitely be involved in shaping this new discipline (e.g., slowing its development). Regulations at various levels are necessary for safety. The public should be informed/ educated so that the field is not prematurely squashed.
Extreme genetic engineering: an introduction to synthetic biology link
Purpose: This articles provides a wide-angle view of synthetic biology, introducing five major research areas: minimal cells, assembly line DNA, artificial cells from the bottom-up, pathway engineering, and expanded genetic code.