Scientists are exploring how to edit genomes and even create brand new ones that never existed before, but how close are we to harnessing synthetic life?
Scientists have made major strides when it comes to understanding the base code that underlies all living things—but what if we could program living cells like software?
The principle behind synthetic biology, the emerging study of building living systems, lies in this ability to synthesize life. An ability to create animal products, individualized medical therapies, and even transplantable organs, all starting with synthetic DNA and cells in a lab.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to synthesizing life: building artificial cells from the bottom-up or engineering microorganisms so significantly that it resynthesizes and redesigns the genome.
With genetic engineering tools becoming more and more accessible, researchers want to use these synthesized genomes to enhance human health with regards to things like detecting infections or environmental pollutants. Bacterial cells can be engineered that will detect toxic chemicals.
And these synthesized bacteria could potentially protect us from, for example, consuming toxins in contaminated water.
The world of synthetic biology goes beyond human health though, it can be used in a variety of industries, including fashion. Researchers hope to come up with lab-made versions of materials like leather or silk.
Learn more about synthetic biology and how close we are to harnessing synthetic life on this episode of How Close Are We?
Watch me unveil “synthetic life” – TED
“Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they’ve created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA. He explains how they did it and why the achievement marks the beginning of a new era for science.”
Artificial life form given ‘synthetic DNA’
“At this point, the genome engineers’ job became a bit like a railway engineer’s maintenance programme – replacing the E. coli genome piecewise – section by section – rather than all at once.
‘The bacterial chromosome is so big,” team leader Jason Chin told the BBC, “we needed an approach that would let us see what had gone wrong if there had been any mistakes along the way.'”
The Next Best Version of Me: How to Live Forever
“Researchers want to synthesize an optimized human genome that can be stored indefinitely and grown decades from now. So I volunteered mine.”