I'm a programmer so I have little knowledge in the field of biology. However I have an interest in plants, GMOs and DNA (in terms of programming).

So, I want to know what kind of technology is necessary and what limitations there are involved in creating a DNA printer (that could print out a cell to be grown in a pot).

First, how do we print the DNA of a plant? Can we print it all from the first pair of chromosomes? I have heard we are already able to print bacteria's DNA. Is this something we would be able to achieve outside of a lab? Could it be done on commercial scale?

Second, what conditions do we need to prepare the DNA if it is not that of a bacteria but rather of a plant that would grow into a multi-cellular organism? Can we really print a plant DNA, inject it into a cell and let it grow?

Third, what is the current understanding of DNA ? Can we analyze DNA strand with digital software yet? Can we simulate how the organism will do with the DNA? And how can I start working in this field? Are there any scientific papers I can learn from?

P.S. My first goal is to make a Nepenthes Vine. I want to have a vine plant like Pothos creeping on my fence with a jugs to eat insects.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ We cannot print DNA. We can synthesize relatively long fragments of it, but this is costly and relatively slow. Additionally a cell is much more than its DNA. It is a bunch of proteins, I suggest you start by reading the Wikipedia article on it. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Oct 23 '14 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ This is far too broad for a single question. You should read up on the basics and then post several more focused questions instead. $\endgroup$ Oct 24 '14 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ Before I have create this post I already seen things about DNA laser printer long times ago. So I want to ask you people how this field progress. Seem like not so much. And, somehow, I have seen most of tech blog calling "DNA Synthesize Machine" as "Printer" in so I think it is standard vocab $\endgroup$
    – Thaina
    Oct 24 '14 at 9:52

The closest we have come to achieving this was probably when the J. Craig Venter institute made a synthetic bacteria. They produced the genome for the smallest simplest bacteria they could find and it still took a large team of researchers several years and a LOT of money. Building a plant would be exponentially more difficult.

What complicates this is that you need more than DNA. You need the proteins that read the DNA and make RNA and more proteins. JCVI not only had to synthesize the DNA for the bacteria they wanted to make, but they had to take cells from another species of bacteria, remove all its DNA, then insert the new DNA. The leftover proteins from the previous species were able to read the new DNA, and make the proteins that built the new species. This only worked because the 2 species used were close enough that the same promoters and regulatory elements on the DNA could interact with the pre-existing protein. If you could make a plant genome and insert it into a bacteria, some plant proteins might be produced, but it would not be orchestrated well enough to actually produce a plant.


As Chris mentioned in his comment, 'printing' DNA from scratch (i.e. synthesizing a long strand de novo) is expensive and difficult. Unfortunately, the process of GMO creation is not as simple as assembling a beautiful DNA sequence on the computer, printing it, and then inserting it into a cell. Here's a related question about de novo sequencing. Plant biologists, please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think it's a trivial matter to grow a plant from a single cultured cell.

Your third question reminds me of DNA programming, which is an amazingly cool, developing field. Many companies (including Microsoft) are funding research into DNA circuitry and biological computing, making computers out of biomolecules. Here's an interesting paper that will tell you more. What you may be most interested in is the branch of DNA programming that seeks to identify discrete protein-coding and otherwise functional DNA that can be utilized as a sort of "programming language" to build a new organism. One of my past supervisors recently joined this field and I'm a little jealous. Overall, this is a very new field so there is much to be accomplished and very little is technically possible, although the principle of GMOs is really just an optimization of an existing organism.

In summary, the answer to all three of your questions is: No, not very well. But we're trying.

Most likely this isn't something you'll be able to pick up in your spare time in order to have a cool plant to grow on your fence. It's very expensive and very difficult (in some cases, maybe even impossible). However, there are so many unknowns in this area of research and everything you propose is reasonable in theory. Let me know if you figure it out. I would love to code my own garden.


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