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Synthetic BiologyWe live in a wondrous time. We can 3D print almost anything, including human tissues. Biotechnology is revolutionizing the energy industry and personalized medicine delivers individual treatments for heart disease and other major illnesses. And now. we can create life!

Actually, we're on version 3.0. Scientists have made a living bacterium using DNA created in a test tube. The focus of this study was to determine the minimal essential genes required for life in a microbial organism. The process is called synthetic biology.

The first synthetic organism, called syn 1.0, was made in 2010 when researchers reproduced the chromosome of a tiny bacterium that was used to take over the empty shell of another. For the past six years, they've been trying to determine which genes in syn 1.0 they could cut and still maintain life. They finally accomplished the feat recently in syn 3.0. At 473-genes, this reproducing bacterium has the smallest number of genes for a free-living organism.

They did this through extensive trial and error. Researchers began systematically eliminating and adding back various genes hundreds of times to figure out what was essential. What's remarkable is that though they know which genes are essential, the functions of a third remain unknown. That just shows how little we understand life. If a third of what keeps the tiniest life going is a mystery, imagine the complexity of the human genome.

The study has created excitement among scientists eager to use syn 3.0 to understand the function of each essential gene to life. They're also eager to understand the mystery genes which may hold many implications for human health.

For more information…

Synthetic Biology
...is A) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and B) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes...

Synthetic Biology Institute at UC Berkeley (SBI)
...is working to make the engineering of new complex function in cells vastly more efficient, reliable, predictable, and safe...

Beyond GMOs: The Rise of Synthetic Biology
Genetically modified organisms today usually have just one engineered gene. Scientists now want to create organisms with whole new gene clusters...