Synthetic organisms are about to challenge what ’being’ and ‘alive’ really means


We need to begin a serious debate about whether artificially evolved humans are our future, and if we should put an end to these experiments before it is too late.

In 2016, Craig Venter and his team at Synthetic Genomics announced that they had created a lifeform called JCVI-syn3.0, whose genome consisted of only 473 genes.

This stripped-down organism was a significant breakthrough in the development of artificial life as it enabled us to understand more fully what individual genes do. (In the case of JCVI-syn3.0, most of them were used to create RNA and proteins, preserve genetic fidelity during reproduction and create the cell membrane.

The functions of about a third remain a mystery.)

Venter’s achievement followed an earlier breakthrough in 2014, when Floyd Romesberg at Romesberg Lab in California succeeded in creating xeno nucleic acid (XNA), a synthetic alternative to DNA, using amino acids not found among the naturally occurring four nucleotides: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. 

And, most recently we have seen huge advances in the use of CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that allows substitution or injection of DNA sequences at chosen locations in a genome.

Read More: Why Bill Gates is Betting on this Synthetic Biology Start-Up

Together, these developments mean that in 2019 we will have to take seriously the possibility of our developing multicellular artificial life, and we will need to start thinking about the ethical and philosophical challenges such a possibility brings up.

In the near future we can reasonably anticipate that a large number of unnatural single-cell life forms will be created using artificially edited genomes to correct for genetic defects or to add new features to an organism’s phenotype.

It is already possible to design bacterial forms, for example, that can metabolise pollutants or produce particular substances.

We can also anticipate that new life forms may be created that have never existed in nature through the use of conventional and perhaps artificially arranged codons (nucleotide sequences that manage protein synthesis).

These are likely to make use of the conventional machinery of mitotic cell reproduction and of conventional ribosomes, creating proteins through RNA or XNA interpretation.

And there will be increasing pressures to continue this research. We may need to accelerate the evolution of terrestrial life forms, for example, including homo sapiens, so that they carry traits and capabilities needed for life in space or even on our own changing planet. 

All of this will bring up serious issues as to how we see ourselves – and behave – as a species.

While the creation of multicellular organisms that are capable of sexual reproduction is still a long way off, in 2019 we will need to begin a serious debate about whether artificially evolved humans are our future, and if we should put an end to these experiments before it is too late.

 Vint Cerf of ‘Wired’

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Tucson News: Synthetic Biology Market Expected to Reach $5.6 Billion in 2018


BioGraphene-320This article was originally distributed via PRWeb. PRWeb, WorldNow and this Site make no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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The synthetic biology market is highly competitive with a large number of players, including both big and small players, operating in this market. http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/synthetic-biology-market-889.html

(PRWEB) November 20, 2014

The report, “Synthetic Biology Market by Tool (XNA, Chassis, Oligos, Enzymes, Cloning kits), Technology (Bioinformatics, Nanotechnology, Gene Synthesis, Cloning & Sequencing), Application (Biofuels, Pharmaceuticals, Biomaterials, Bioremediation) – Global Forecast to 2018”, analyses and studies the major market drivers, threats, opportunities, and challenges.

This report studies the global synthetic biology market for the forecast period of 2013 to 2018. This market is expected to reach $5,630.4 million by 2018 from $1,923.1 million in 2013, growing at a CAGR of 24% during the forecast period.

The global synthetic biology market is segmented on the basis of tools, technologies, applications, and geographies.

On the basis of tools, the synthetic biology market is categorized into Xeno-nucleic acids, chassis organisms, oligonucleotides, enzymes, and cloning and assembly kits. The oligonucleotides segment accounted for a major share of the synthetic biology market, by tool, in 2013.

On the basis of technologies, the synthetic biology market is segmented into enabled and enabling technologies. Enabling technologies accounted for a major share of the synthetic biology market in 2013. On the basis of applications, the synthetic biology market is segmented into environmental, medical, and industrial applications. The medical applications segment accounted for a major share of the synthetic biology market in 2013.

On the basis of regions, the market is divided into North America, Europe, Asia, and Rest of the World (RoW). The Rest of the World region comprises Latin America, Pacific countries, and the Middle East and Africa. North America accounted for the largest share of the synthetic biology market, followed by Europe and Asia. However, the European market is expected to grow at the highest CAGR in the coming five years, and serves as a revenue pocket for the companies involved in the manufacturing of synthetic biology products.

Over the years, the demand for synthetic biology is likely to increase owing to the increasing R&D expenditure in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, growing demand for synthetic genes, rising production of genetically modified crops, and incessantly rising funding in the field of synthetic biology. However, ethical and social issues such as bio-safety and bio-security are major factors that are restricting the growth of this market. Furthermore, rising concerns over fuel consumption and increasing demand for protein therapeutics are likely to create opportunities for the synthetic biology market. However, standardization and integration of biological parts at system-level still remains a challenge for this market.

Some of the major players in the global synthetic biology market include Amyris, Inc. (U.S.), DuPont (U.S.), GenScript USA, Inc. (U.S.), Intrexon Corporation (U.S.), Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) (U.S.), New England Biolabs, Inc. (NEB) (U.S.), Novozymes (Denmark), Royal DSM (Netherlands), Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (California), and Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc. (U.S.).

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MIT team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yet


New sensor can detect four different molecules, could be used to program cells to precisely monitor their environments.

MIT team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yetUsing genes as interchangeable parts, synthetic biologists design cellular circuits that can perform new functions, such as sensing environmental conditions. However, the complexity that can be achieved in such circuits has been limited by a critical bottleneck: the difficulty in assembling genetic components that don’t interfere with each other. 

 

Unlike electronic circuits on a silicon chip, biological circuits inside a cell cannot be physically isolated from one another. “The cell is sort of a burrito. It has everything mixed together,” saysChristopher Voigt, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT.

Because all the cellular machinery for reading genes and synthesizing proteins is jumbled together, researchers have to be careful that proteins that control one part of their synthetic circuit don’t hinder other parts of the circuit.

Voigt and his students have now developed circuit components that don’t interfere with one another, allowing them to produce the most complex synthetic circuit ever built. The circuit, described in the Oct. 7 issue of Nature, integrates four sensors for different molecules. Such circuits could be used in cells to precisely monitor their environments and respond appropriately.

“It’s incredibly complex, stitching together all these pieces,” says Voigt, who is co-director of the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT. Larger circuits would require computer programs that Voigt and his students are now developing, which should allow them to combine hundreds of circuits in new and useful ways.

Lead author of the paper is MIT postdoc Tae Seok Moon. Other authors are MIT postdoc Chunbo Lou and Alvin Tamsir, a graduate student at the University of California at San Francisco.

Expanding the possibilities

Previously, Voigt has designed bacteria that can respond to light and capture photographic images, and others that can detect low oxygen levels and high cell density — both conditions often found in tumors. However, no matter the end result, most of his projects, and those of other synthetic biologists, use a small handful of known genetic parts. “We were just repackaging the same circuits over and over again,” Voigt says.

To expand the number of possible circuits, the researchers needed components that would not interfere with each other. They started out by studying the bacterium that causes salmonella, which has a cellular pathway that controls the injection of proteins into human cells. “It’s a very tightly regulated circuit, which is what makes it a good synthetic circuit,” Voigt says.

The pathway consists of three components: an activator, a promoter and a chaperone. A promoter is a region of DNA where proteins bind to initiate transcription of a gene. An activator is one such protein. Some activators also require a chaperone protein before they can bind to DNA to initiate transcription.

The researchers found 60 different versions of this pathway in other species of bacteria, and found that most of the proteins involved in each were different enough that they did not interfere with one another. However, there was a small amount of crosstalk between a few of the circuit components, so the researchers used an approach called directed evolution to reduce it. Directed evolution is a trial-and-error process that involves mutating a gene to create thousands of similar variants, then testing them for the desired trait. The best candidates are mutated and screened again, until the optimal gene is created.

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says the amount of troubleshooting the researchers did to create each functional module is impressive. “A lot of people are charmed by the idea of creating complex genetic circuits. This study provides valuable examples of the types of optimizations that they may have to do in order to accomplish such goals,” says Mukhopadhyay, who was not part of the research team.

Layered circuits

To design synthetic circuits so they can be layered together, their inputs and outputs must mesh. With an electrical circuit, the inputs and outputs are always electricity. With these biological circuits, the inputs and outputs are proteins that control the next circuit (either activators or chaperones).

These components could be useful for creating circuits that can sense a variety of environmental conditions. “If a cell needs to find the right microenvironment — glucose, pH, temperature and osmolarity [solute concentration] — individually they’re not very specific, but getting all four of those things really narrows it down,” Voigt says.

The researchers are now applying this work to create a sensor that will allow yeast in an industrial fermenter to monitor their own environment and adjust their output accordingly.

The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health.