Pamela Silver is the principal investigator of the Silver Lab (silver.med.harvard.edu) and an Elliot T and Onie H Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. Silver delivers an incredibly interesting and important overview of the biological advances that can help to reduce climate change and improve other pressing global issues through science.
Silver is a member of the Harvard Wyss Institute and the Harvard University Graduate Program in Systems Biology, as well as the Harvard Medical School BBS Graduate Program and the Harvard Biophysics and Chemical Biology Graduate Programs. Her passionate interest and curiosity with systems to synthetic biology drive her team’s research at Silver Lab.
Silver’s team works in the arena of systems and synthetic biology to develop, design, and build biological systems in mammalian and prokaryotic cells. Working in a vast and diverse swath of methods and approaches from the computational to experimental, Silver states her team’s overarching mission is to address complex scientific questions that may impact the world and its population on a grand scale. Silver Lab works on many projects annually, from the reconstruction of entire new genomes to the hopeful development of principles for building synthetic cells that act as sensors, bio-computers, and memory devices, as well as the building of novel subsystems such as proteins with designed properties for general therapeutic use.
Silver discusses her diverse work that tackles health-related issues, sustainability issues, climate change, and beyond, solutions to improve the way we live and interact with our world. She states her philosophy that biology is the best chemistry and talks about her work to replace many chemical industry processes with biological solutions in an effort to decrease stress on the environment overall. She details her “bionic leaf” project, which is a system that uses solar energy to essentially split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to generate and produce liquid fuels. The system can convert solar energy to biomass and the possibilities for this scientific advance are truly revolutionary. And she notes the particular importance of science-based solutions and the landmark Paris Accord (Paris Agreement), which is a multinational agreement on global warming and greenhouse-gas emissions, as climate change is truly accelerating.
The biology innovator discusses the future probability of seeing more hydrogen-fueled automobiles and the current pushback against them, from the issues regarding the centralized production of traditional fuel sources, shipping concerns, and politics. And she explains how the push to move electric cars forward has perhaps stymied the hydrogen-fueled industry.
Silver describes how some of the bacteria that exist within the bionic leaf can be engineered such that they can utilize all the tools for gene editing and gene engineering, and thus place genes into them that program the cells to make things, from molecules that look like biofuels, plastic precursors, and even feedstock for other elements.
Commanding the knowledge regarding how to program cells in a completely rational way can be extremely valuable for many advanced scientific areas from stem cell design, to drug therapy, and the environment. Silver’s lab strives to utilize a combination of theoretical and experimental approaches to further develop and improve what biology can offer us, in a myriad of ways.