“Science is not sexy.”

“Science is too much coffee and Birkenstocks and bad hair, but that’s not what people want to hear.”

That from bioethicist Debra Matthews, joking last night about the disconnect between the tedious work of sitting at a lab bench waiting for some cells to grow and then trying to get the public excited about the results (or lack thereof). Speaking at Busboys and Poets for a DC Science Café discussion of “Synthetic Biology: Life as You Know It and As You Don’t,” Matthews, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics, was joined by Todd Kuiken of the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. They gave a thought-provoking overview of what has become an incredibly contentious area of science, touching on the chilling litigation that had put federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in jeopardy, and on the burgeoning field of bio-security.

 Take-home point: In five or ten years, you’ll be able to sequence anything you want in your own home, so we better gin up STEM education in this country. A great place for kids and adults alike to start is the comic “Adventures in Synthetic Biology,” which runs in the journal Nature.

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