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 JCVI–syn 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.
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. http://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)
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