Synthetic biology might have only been science fiction at one point, but as science fiction fans became scientists, and our understanding of DNA grew to the point where it was possible to tinker and experiment, synthetic biology became quite real. Quite real, but not always understood.
To give their readers a little primer on synthetic biology—specifically what it is and its basic steps and components—Nature magazine published a short comic written by Drew Endy, Isadora Deese, and the MIT Synthetic Biology Working Group; the art is by Chuck Wadey. The comic follows the adventures of an unnamed scientist and her ambitious boy assistant as they navigate the perils and pitfalls of synthetic biology, divided into sections based on the individual problems/components of the process: Programming DNA, Engineered Genetic Devices, and Common Signal Carriers. The comic is a bit higher level than many science comics in that it assumes some prior knowledge of how DNA works. Interestingly enough, to explain common signal carriers, it also resorts to an electrical current analogy. This is not a problem for regular readers of Nature, but could possibly leave casual readers out in the cold.
The plugin used to display the comic on Nature.com is interesting in itself; while you cannot zoom in on individual panels, there is a “rollover” feature that displays the text from the speech bubbles when you slide the mouse pointer over them.
The comic accompanies a feature article called “Foundations for engineering biology,” but unless you have a subscription or pay for the article, it’s otherwise unavailable online. Fortunately you can still freely access “Life, Reinvented” from an earlier issue of Wired, cited as one of the sources for this comic.
For more information on the comic itself, we recommend checking out the wiki page, where you find out how Larry Gonick of The Cartoon Guide to Genetics inspired the comic, as well as finding mentions of other nonfiction comics like Howtoons.