In what seems like the stuff of Frankenstein, scientists are synthesizing artificial life.
But why mess with nature, what benefit could there possibly be?
Lissette here for Dnews.
Scientists are creating artificial life.
What some are doing is freakishly similar to how Frankenstein assembled his monster
with different pieces – but in their cases, instead of using random body parts and electricity
to spring creatures to life – scientists are using empty cells and chromosomes and infusing
them with fungal and bacterial life.
And instead of ending up with one monster, they end up with many tiny creations.
Because the payoff of this artificial life can be huge.
Geneticists use various processes to construct synthetic life.
In one example published in Science in 2008, researchers managed to synthesize a mycoplasma
– that’s a type of bacteria.
Scientists achieved this by first breaking down the mycoplasma’s original genome into
成101个片段 他们称其为 — 基因盒
101 pieces, which they called “cassettes”.
Then to create a new artificial form of the bacteria, they took 1 to 4 of these cassettes
and inserted them into a host bacteria’s chromosome: either E.Coli or S. cerevisiae
aka brewer’s yeast.
The process enabled researchers to create many different combinations of artificial
当时 这简直是里程碑式的成就 但从那时开始 科学家将弗兰肯式生命进行
At the time, this was a huge landmark achievement, but since then, scientists have taken Franken-life
to the next level; that’s not to say the life they created was more complex.
In fact, quite the opposite.
Just recently, scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute were able to synthesize a Mycoplasma
bacterium with an incredibly small genome just 473 genes.
与人类的2 5000个基因相比 这简直
To put that number into perspective a human has about 25,000 genes.
Now it may seem futile for researchers to spend so much time creating such a simple
organism, but this tiny artificial bacterium can actually tell us a lot about which genes
are considered the building blocks of life.
When you have an organism with a large genome, it’s incredibly difficult to understand
the role of each individual gene.
So this small synthesized genome can help scientists isolate specific genes that they
may want to turn on or off to see what happens.
If the cell dies when one particular gene is taken out, then scientists know that gene
is essential for life.
另外 与人类不同 这些小东西可自我复制
What’s more, because unlike human life, these organisms can self replicate, scientists
can have a slew of these organisms to make comparisons.
Now, potentially scientists can use these techniques to manipulate genes – change them
in some way – or introduce foreign genes into an organism.
Which is why some are worried that synthesizing artificial life is too much like playing god.
However, some scientists believe that synthetic bacterial life can have significant benefits.
In addition to advancing gene editing techniques and drug development; it could even help us
find new ways to use our own immune system to fight off disease.
But before that happens, there are some questions that remain to be answered, like whether the
chromosomes present in synthesized bacterial cells contain the entire spectrum of genes…
the concern here is that these basic genomes may not really be representative of the building
blocks that make up our own DNA.
还有 如果我们能更好地理解生命的基石 思考需要什么能够完成
Still, if we can better understand life’s building blocks, think of what could be accomplished….we
could figure out what is causing alzheimer’s disease, what feeds our cells, what influences
our cognitive abilities…the possibilities are endless.
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