A recent survey of 3,000 people worldwide found what many have known all along--that Legos are the best toy ever made. For synthetic biologists, this doesn't come as much of a surprise--Legos are at the heart of the concepts underlying the basics of synthetic biology.
Legos are a favorite analogy for BioBricks, the DNA parts that are made to easily "snap" together using a shared genetic engineering strategy. The iGEM competition is structured around BioBricks, with undergraduate teams combining old and creating new BioBricks for the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, competing for the coveted Lego-shaped trophy, and sometimes even using real Legos in their projects, building robots used for biological experiments.
Legos are wonderful toys because snapping just a few little pieces together can, with a little imagination, turn simple bricks into almost anything. It's a powerful analogy for synthetic biology, where not only do Legos provide us with the idea that common biological parts can be easily snapped together to create something completely new and amazing, the analogy gives us a license to play with biology, to try different combinations and see what happens. The same people who loved playing with Legos as kids are the people building the Registry, making new biological systems, trying to see what we can make. Of course cells aren't the blank slate that our bedroom carpets were for building Lego structures, by playing with biology we can learn a lot about how cells work and create new and potentially useful things.
Just for fun, go to You Tube and search on "Lego Machines". There are way too many people with way too much time on their hands*. Rubik's cube solving machines turned out to be just the tip of this iceberg.
On a more serious note, the Mindstorms robot controllers were a stroke of pure genius, and are likely helping save our next generation of proto-scientists.
*meaning, of course, I want to do that too but ...
Legos certainly work as a visual for the construction and engineering aspect of synthetic biology.
It would be great to find a visual analogy from childhood that gets out of the synbio silo and speaks more to the living and growing aspect of the new life in the field, that nods to fellow biologists in the natural history sector, as well as micro-farmers.
I think about sea monkeys, but that is kind of goofy. Ideas?