Creating artificial life and what we want from it—including resistance ‘to all known pathogens’

synthetic
Image: U.S. Army Photo by Eric Proctor and Autumn Kulaga

For some scientists, [synthetic biology] will have created artificial life if it can arrange DNA into new combinations on a large scale — adding or subtracting hundreds of genes at a time, rather than the single-gene edits now possible with genetic engineering. These manipulations will push the boundaries of what life can be, creating new forms and functions.

For others, the ultimate goal is more elemental: to use the tools of synthetic biology to learn about life’s origins or figure out what to look for in the search for life on other planets. This definition of artificial life requires that scientists make all the parts and assemble them with a much deeper understanding of how each component works.

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Down the line, [geneticist George] Church has far grander ideas. In a decade or more, he predicts, we’ll have “mirror life,” organisms whose proteins fold in opposite configurations, making them immune to viruses, predators, and enzymes, which would be unable to recognize them. Applications might eventually include biodegradation-resistant cotton, silk, wood, and ropes, which would render ineffective the digestive enzymes of fungi, worms, insects, and bacteria. Perhaps someday, we’ll have mirror-image plant or animal cells which would be completely resistant to all known pathogens.

Related article:  Cheese without the cow: Could bioengineering produce animal-free dairy products?

For Church and others like him, these marvels of bioengineering are the real payoff of synthetic biology and the quest for artificial life.

Read full, original post: Inside the race to build life from scratch

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