Synthetic biology. Beginning of life

Maciej Żylicz


Technological strides in DNA sequencing, biopolymer synthesis and bioinformatics provided the cornerstone for the birth of a new discipline, synthetic biology (design-based engineering of biological systems aimed at solving society’s problems). The term “Synthetic biology” was first introduced by prof. Wacław Szybalski. Ideally, an engineered system should be functionally robust and predictable. Yet these features are difficult to achieve. The prime goal of synthetic biology is to engineer minimal cell system in which genetic material will be replicated and will undergo Darwinian evolution. To achieve this goal, two complementary approaches were undertaken. First, the “top-down” approach: engineering minimal genomes starting from already existing bacteria (in vivo reduction), spearheaded and advanced by J. Craig Venter. Furthermore this approach is complemented by the identification of minimal enzymatic systems, which lead to DNA replication and control cell division. The second, in vitro “bottom up” approach bases on the synthesis of bimolecular parts (nucleotides or amino acids) using pre-biotic non-enzymatic reactions; from such building blocks a minimal functioning cell could be created. Jack Szostak has made significant progress in this approach. These experiments stimulate and perplex our imagination that 10 billion years ago the emergence of life stems from self-organizing reactions without explicit intervention from outside.


synthetic biology; pre-biotic chemistry; self-organizing reactions

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