What is synthetic biology in which scientists program the code of living things

When did synthetic biology appear?

For the first time the term "synthetic biology" was used in 1980

Barbara Robom in describing a bacterium that has been genetically modified using recombinant DNA technology.

Twenty years later, in 2000, the term againproposed by Eric Call, along with colleagues and other speakers, to describe the synthesis of artificial organic molecules that play a role in living systems.

So, back in 2002, the first completely artificial virus was born, and after another 8 years - Cynthia, the first viable bacterium with a completely artificial genome.

How does a new direction in science work?

The very idea synthetic biology evolves around genomic engineering. In recent years, new, extremely convenient molecular tools have appeared, with the help of which you can change the genome of almost any organism in any way.

Synthetic biology applies engineeringapproach for the formation of living organisms - from enzymes to microbes. In the future, scientists will be able to shape the human genome, work in this direction is already underway.

In the very essence of the new direction liesthe ability to actually program the code of living beings. This, of course, will affect their development. There are already tools that allow you to edit DNA and create new combinations of genes.

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Why is this direction interesting?

In order to change the code of living beings, you need to understand the laws of life. Gradually studying synthetic biology, you can shed light on some biological laws.

Nevertheless, the practical value of syntheticbiology is no less important than scientific. Since the industrial revolution, man has exhausted the forces of nature - now he can control the development of living organisms.

Also, synthetic biology can create more sustainable products, in particular, it is artificially grown meat or biofuels. This way you can do minimal harm to the planet.

Examples of work:

DNA in living cells can be described, understood, and studied using programming terms. Indeed, let's look at DNA through the eyes of a programmer.

  • DNA language is digital, uses four meanings: A, T, C and G; "DNA byte" consists of three characters and encodes one amino acid;
  • eukaryotes have a part of the "code" - sequencesintrons, - in fact, nothing encodes and is subsequently cut out. However, they serve a vital function: this DNA helps code execute correctly, just like comments in programs.
  • the versatility of the genetic code makes genetic programs compatible with the vast majority of living organisms.

The revolutionary breakthrough occurred on May 20, 2010. This day will forever go down in history as the day on which it was announced the creation of the first reproductive living cell based on the synthesized genome. An artificial living organism was created at the Craig Venter Institute under the guidance of Craig Venter himself.

In total, the research leading tothe creation of the first synthetic organism capable of reproduction took more than 15 years, but this event carries a revolutionary potential for science and, possibly, will allow mankind to solve the most ambitious tasks, such as new sources of food raw materials, drugs and vaccines, victory over environmental pollution, synthesis of pure water, etc.

Scientists strive to create a vast genetica bank that allows you to create any desired organism (by analogy with creating an electronic circuit from industrial transistors and diodes). The bank is made up of biobricks (BioBrick) - DNA fragments whose function is strictly defined and which can be introduced into the cell genome for the synthesis of a known protein. All selected biobricks are designed to interact well with all others on two levels:

  • mechanical - so that they can be easily manufactured, stored and included in the genetic chain;
  • software - so that each brick sends out certain chemical signals and interacts with other pieces of code.

Some biological molecular machines

What's next?

At the same time, synthetic biology usesvarious technologies, including machine learning. The Nature Communications article discusses algorithms that can predict how changes in a cell's DNA will affect its behavior. Also, algorithms can provide recommendations for future developments of bioengineers.

At the same time, there are fears that work with the human genome may lead to irreversible consequences. It is also believed that some groups of organisms can thus change forever.

For example, a recent Pew Research poll showed that most of the population considers genetically modified foods unsafe for consumption.

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