Who’s Out There?—The Smallest Critter Yet2 min read

473 is a huge number when it refers to active players in a cascade of nested complex systems. To untangle who does what, when everyone is looking in four dimensions to find something interesting or necessary to do, in order for the whole mess of interactions to survive and duplicate—-Well, to untangle such a chemical puzzle, much less build it from scratch, is not easy.

Biochemists are gradually solving such puzzles. Science (4/16/16 p.6) reports that biologists have built a bacterium with 473 genes. They call it JCVIsyn 3.0. The purpose of assembling this bacterium—”the smallest of any known free-living cell“—was to create a “minimal genome” to serve as a medical-template and identify genes necessary for survival.

The genes of JCVI-syn 3.0 were organized by function, unlike the “untidiness of evolution,” to enable tinkering with the critter’s metabolic processes. Hopefully, someday this small made-up bacterium may help make disease-fighting drugs.

A biological cell is very much like a computer—the genome is the software that encodes the instructions of the cell and the cellular machinery is the hardware that interprets and runs the genome software. jcvi.org

We have a ways to go, however, before we can use such technology to re-invent life from scratch—even with the helpful environment of the alkaline hydrothermal vents. Science news.org/Dec.-Jan. 2017 reports that “many scientists were stunned to learn that… JCVI-syn 3.0…”had 65 genes with no known function that were nevertheless required for survival. www.jcvi.org/cms/research/projects/minimal-cell/overview/ states that “there is still not a single self-replicating cell in which we understand the function of every one of its genes….

Over the past 10 years whole bacterial chromosome assembly has gone from impossible, to possible in years, to months and now to just weeks with these new methods…”

The breakdown of the 473 genes given is “18% membrane structure and function”—signaling how important isolation is for life to thrive and reproduce. “Seventeen percent is for cytosolic metabolism, 41 % for genome expression information and 17% unassigned functions.”

It should be interesting to watch developments with this approach. However, this is not about starting life from scratch, as we discussed when talking about the alkaline hydrothermal vent environment. These are “advances in DNA technologies [which] have made it possible for biologists to now behave as software engineers and rewrite entire genomes to program new biological operating systems.”

Author of The Archives of Varok

The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)

The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)

Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA

ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF

The Alien Effect (Book 3.)

An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)

Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-


Reviews of significant books- www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper

How the Hen House Turns- www.ladailypost.com

Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- caryneeper.com

Astrobiologyastronaut.com search:Who’s Out There


Cary Neeper is an avid student of complexity theory, sustainability, steady-state economics, and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion. She grew up in the foothills of Hayward, California, where she helped rack dried fruit on her father’s 40-acre apricot ranch. After studying zoology/chemistry and religion at Pomona College and medical microbiology at the University of Wisconsin, she moved with her husband to northern New Mexico, where they raised their family. The Neepers still live in the Southwest with a friendly menagerie of dogs, fish, chickens, geese, ducks and a turkey called Little Bear. Cary plays string bass with local folk, symphony and jazz groups and tennis with local retired physicists. She paints landscapes in acrylics, including the cover art for her first Penscript title, The Webs of Varok. Cary's first novel and Webs of Varok prequel A Place Beyond Man was originally published in 1975 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, Dell, and Millington, London. Cary re-released A Place Beyond Man as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition, now available from online booksellers. Its themes of sustainability and interspecies cooperation have now grown into new adventures for its human, elll and varok family as they travel the alternate 21st century Solar System in the five-volume Archives of Varok, coming from Penscript Publishing House in 2012–2014. Cary’s other works include two musical science fiction comedies “U.F.F.D.A.!” and “Petra and the Jay,” as well as newspaper and magazine articles, essays, short stories, and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor.

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