Code can create a virtual world and artificial intelligence, but can it develop organisms that are living and real?
It could be possible with DNA reengineering!
In fact, scientists have created bacteria with a synthetic genome, and people call this the first evidence of artificial life and a milestone for synthetic biology. E. coli colonies thrive on DNA created by humans rather than that produced by nature.1
Scientists have artificially developed the world’s first living organism with a fully synthetic and radically altered DNA code. This lab-made organism is a strain of bacteria typically found in soil and the human gut, and is similar to its natural namesake. But it survives on a much smaller set of genetic instructions. Such a living organism proves that life can exist with a restricted genetic code. It also opens the door to organisms that can take control of their biological machinery to produce valuable products like drugs and medicines or to enhance their resistance to viruses.1
Prior to this, U.S. scientists worked on the creation of the world’s first organism with a synthetic genome, Mycoplasma mycoides.1
However, it wasn’t redesigned and was much smaller than the recent creation. The rewritten DNA of the bacteria E. coli has a synthetic genome that is four times larger and much more complex than any that has previously been created. The bacteria that are alive are unusually shaped and have slower reproduction. Their cells, however, operate according to the new set of biological rules based on the reconstructed genetic code.1
Such engineered life forms may be helpful since they have unique DNA that makes it difficult for invasive viruses to spread within them, effectively making them virus-resistant. The biopharmaceutical industry already uses E coli to produce insulin for people with diabetes and other pharmaceuticals for people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart attacks, and eye problems.2 Therefore, this artificially created organism might have been created to be resistant to such threats. But that’s not all; in the future, the freed-up genetic code might be used to instruct cells to produce custom enzymes, proteins, and medications too.1
We will be able to not only read and edit DNA code but also write it, thanks to several novel biological technologies and methods that broadly fall under the synthetic biology umbrella. In other words, we will soon be able to program living, organic structures as if they were small computers. One of those technologies, CRISPR-Cas9, has made it possible to modify DNA code since the early 2010s.3
CRISPR frequently makes headlines regarding ground-breaking medical procedures, such as altering blind people’s genes to restore their vision.3 Though there are still numerous obstacles to fully implementing these procedures, we will eventually have the technology base to treat any genetic disorder affecting humans. And, this very well may be the cornerstone. 4 Science is making a bold promise to improve human existence through code and synthetic biology. Therefore, given that life is becoming increasingly programmable, it would not be wrong to say that the code for our future is being created right now.
Only time will tell what further mind-boggling feats can be accomplished through code, given how technology has made so many previously unthinkable things possible.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in reading about coding and space exploration, How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming the World, The Dawn of Technology in DNA Testing and Sequencing, and How code is helping people with prosthetic limbs. You can also read various other articles on how coding is influencing our lives on BYJU’s FutureSchool blog.
- Scientists Created Bacteria With a Synthetic Genome. Is This Artificial Life? – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/15/science/synthetic-genome-bacteria.html
- Alamgir, A. N. M. (2018). Biotechnology, In Vitro Production of Natural Bioactive Compounds, Herbal Preparation, and Disease Management (Treatment and Prevention). Therapeutic Use of Medicinal Plants and Their Extracts: Volume 2, 74, 585. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92387-1_7
- The Genesis Machine by Amy Webb | PublicAffairs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/amy-webb/the-genesis-machine/9781541797918/
- New Technology Lets Scientists Easily Rewrite Living Organisms’ Genetic Code : ScienceAlert. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.sciencealert.com/the-breakthrough-technology-that-lets-scientists-edit-dna-just-got-a-whole-lot-cheaper-and-easier