Updated on 27 September 2012
During the last decade, enormous progress has been made in all these areas. In particular, the Biobrick project at MIT looks at the possibility of making a standard registry of biological parts, whose interactive behavior can be predicted. Although attempts to make a BioTruth table exist, one cannot port the data to other organisms as the Biotruth table is organism, strain, culture condition and metabolic state specific. Moreover, the BioTruth table needs to accommodate the influence of several activators and/or repressors for every data entry in the table.
The fundamental question that essentially remains is whether rational design of organisms are easier than systems analysis? Experience has shown that it is indeed more difficult to compose a network than to study the existing network. The situation gets worse if one needs to integrate vector and scalar processes, linear and non-linear processes at various temporal and environmental contexts.
Thus, it would help to know if there is a way to bypass biological complexity and still construct an organism? In the May 21, 2010, issue of Science, Dr J Craig Venter announced synthesis of a brand new microbe whose DNA sequence was decided in the computer, chemically synthesized in bits and pieces, stitched in yeast and transplanted to a microbe whose genome was removed (Gibson and others, 2010). The microbial cell that rebooted with a new genome was called Synthia. The entire project took 10 years and several hundred million dollars. This was the first demonstration of whole genome replacement with a chemically synthesized genome.
Dr Venter's team computationally redesigned the Mycoplasma genome, based on the essentiality of certain sequences, added their own names as watermarks to distinguish the synthetic genome from the naturally existing genome. Of the many possibilities tested, one of the colonies showed features compatible with genome transplantation. Further, synthetic cells divided a number of times to qualify for a new organism. Dr Venter described it as the first species whose parents were a computer. The work received global coverage with headlines that gave an impression that life had been created for the first time from chemical constituents decided in silico.
With the lowering of excitement pitch, people realized that Sythia was not equal to cooking brand new life from scratch. Dr Venter's team did not design cellular organelles like ribosome, mitochondria, Golgi bodies, liposomes and so on. They did not design synthesis, replication, repair and recycling machinery. All they did was to remove the existing genome and add a custom made genome in its place. It was like running Apple OS on Windows machine.