ASU professor speaks to Congress about supporting synthetic biology research

July 18, 2014

Karmella Haynes was among scientists and engineers to address national leaders at a recent U.S. Congressional briefing on issues raised by the emerging field of synthetic biology.

Haynes is an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She is among educators and researchers using synthetic biology techniques in pursuit of solutions to many of society’s major biotechnology and medical challenges. Haynes at Congress briefing Download Full Image

The field combines biological sciences and engineering in designing and creating new manufactured biological systems and devices, as well as redesigning existing natural biological systems to maintain and enhance human health.

Researchers are using the capabilities of synthetic biology to probe the fundamental makeup of biological systems, enabling them to do things such as modifying and reprogramming body cells and DNA to perform medicinal functions. Such techniques are also being used in plant biology to enhance agriculture.

The rapid advance of synthetic biology has prompted discussions about how to weigh the benefits of the research against potential social and ethical implications, and concerns about safety.

Haynes and two colleagues – Steve Evans and Jay Keasling – gave presentations on those questions to staff members representing members of Congress, National Science Foundation officials, science journalists and other interested parties.

Evans is a research fellow at Dow AgroSciences, a part of the Dow Chemical Company that focuses on sustainable agriculture.

Keasling is the chief executive officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, assistant director at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a professor of biochemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also director of the National Science Foundation-supported Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), which helped to organize the Congressional briefing. Haynes is an affiliate researcher with SynBERC.

The speakers stressed the importance of increasing public awareness of synthetic biology as a way to foster confidence about the methods and the goals of researchers. “We want to inform more people to prevent unfounded fears that might hinder work that has great value for addressing society’s needs,” Haynes said after the briefing.

The audience was also told it will be increasingly important to have experts in the field working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to help keep government regulations up to date on rules related to biological research and biotechnology development. Current regulations “need to be more aligned with technology that is coming from synthetic biology,” Haynes said.

Arizona State University “was highly visible” at the briefing, she said, due particularly to talk about the Workshop on Research Agendas in the Societal Aspects of Synthetic Biology to be hosted by ASU in November.

“We hope we convinced everyone at the briefing that sustained support for biomedical engineering is in the best interests of the nation,” Haynes said.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


New grant brings latest broadcast technology to ASU journalism school

July 18, 2014

Starting this fall, Arizona State University students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication will report live from across the state using cutting-edge technology, thanks to a new grant from Women & Philanthropy, a program of the ASU Foundation for A New American University.

The Cronkite School received the grant in support of a new initiative called Access Across Arizona, which will make it possible for students to more easily report news from Arizona’s rural and remote regions. The school will use the grant funds to acquire a mobile video transmitter for live broadcast reports and pre-recorded video from the field. Cronkite is one of a handful of schools in the country to offer this new technology to students. Download Full Image

"The Access Across Arizona initiative will greatly enhance and expand the ability of our students to cover areas of Arizona that are too often underrepresented by the media,” said Mark Lodato, Cronkite School assistant dean and news director.

The Cronkite School is one of four ASU programs to recently be awarded grants by Women & Philanthropy, which this year distributed more than $300,000 to fund arts entrepreneurship, biomedicine, engineering outreach and journalistic access. Since its inception 11 years ago, the philanthropic group has awarded $2.57 million in grants to 71 ASU programs and initiatives.

“The Women & Philanthropy grant process allows this dynamic group of women to have a significant, collective impact on ASU each year. Additionally, the site evaluations and finalist presentations provide a critical opportunity for them to become more engaged with the students, faculty and top initiatives of the university,” said Michele Rebeor, assistant vice president of engagement programs and director of Women & Philanthropy. “We are thrilled to award this grant to the Cronkite School, and we look forward to seeing its impact across Arizona.”

Christopher Callahan, Cronkite School dean and university vice provost, said he sincerely appreciates the continued support from Women & Philanthropy in helping train the next generation of journalists and communicators.

“Women & Philanthropy plays a critical role in supporting ASU, inspiring and empowering women as visionary investors and connecting the community with the university’s many offerings,” Callahan said. “The group has been a tremendous champion of our school through its support of innovative programs and experiences for our students, and we couldn’t be more grateful for this new gift.”

In 2013, Women & Philanthropy helped fund the Cronkite School’s Carnegie-Knight News21 student investigation into the battles facing post-9/11 women veterans as they returned home from war. Previously, the group funded a news van that brings the Cronkite School journalism experience into high school classrooms.

Through Access Across Arizona, ASU journalism students will use a Dejero LIVE+ 20/20 Transmitter for Cronkite News Service, an immersive professional program in which students produce multimedia news stories that are widely used by professional media outlets across Arizona, and Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s award-winning television newscast that reaches 1.9 million households on Arizona PBS.

Lodato said students will be able to use the transmitter to report live anywhere in Arizona, from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Navajo reservation. And that means Arizonans living in metropolitan areas will have a better understanding of the state’s smaller communities, he said.

The Dejero LIVE+ 20/20 Transmitter fits into a backpack and transmits broadcast-quality live video at a fraction of the cost and complexity of satellite and microwave trucks. In addition to the transmitter, the grant supports a broadcast server, software and accessories.

Women & Philanthropy is part of ASU's Foundation for a New American University. The group inspires and empowers accomplished women to become visionary investors through a collective, significant force supporting a range of ASU activities, including research, educational and health care initiatives, community outreach programs and student scholarships.

Reporter , ASU News