In this recent article "Design and synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome", they created a minimal cell with only 473 genes. However, they didn't synthesize all of the necessary components of the cell to get going. How much of those extra stuff can we currently synthesize, and what are the ones that we can't synthesize in the lab to create a working cell from scratch?

  • $\begingroup$ You mean ribosomes and other cellular organs by "necessary components"? $\endgroup$ – inf3rno Mar 25 '16 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ It is nearly impossible for even nature to create a cell from scratch (this might be debatable). Note that new cells in organisms are made from pre-existing cells via cellular division, and almost all necessary substances are provided to new cell from parent cell only. $\endgroup$ – another 'Homo sapien' Mar 25 '16 at 10:17

Designing/engineering functional proteins from scratch is feasible but would take a ridiculous amount of work. Michael Hecht is one person I know of who has done this (example: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0015364). J Craig Venter wants to determine the minimal set of molecular machines required for life, regardless of their origin. This would begin to illuminate which protein functions are absolutely required for life. I believe we could design and engineer proteins de novo to perform all of those functions in theory, but in practice it would be unrealistic. I think the key point to glean from their synthetic cell is the set of functions, not specific genes, required for life. Those functions could be performed by evolved or synthetic molecules.

As a side note, while I believe that to be the overarching goal, they do note the surprising lack of functional characterization in the syn3.0 genome.


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