Researchers Close in on Building Synthetic Organisms

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By ranina sanglap | November 9, 2011 10:13 AM EST

Scientists at the University of Nottingham are embarking on a new project to build a synthetic cell-equivalent of a computer operating system that could potentially lead to building a new organism.

The project, Towards a Biological Cell Operating System, aims to develop a re-programmable cells that could become the foundation for a new organism that can perform tasks that normal organisms can not do.

"We are looking at creating a cell's equivalent to a computer operating system in such a way that a given group of cells could be seamlessly re-programmed to perform any function without needing to modifying its hardware," said Professor Natalio Krasnogor of the University's School of Computer Science.

"We are talking about a highly ambitious goal leading to a fundamental breakthrough that will, -ultimately, allow us to rapidly prototype, implement and deploy living entities that are completely new and do not appear in nature, adapting them so they perform new useful functions."

The new technology could be a leap forward in Synthetic Biology. With this tech, scientists can start to grow new sources of food and even new organs for transplant patients. The project is actually a bridging of various studies like biology, computer science and chemistry. The project has already attracted scientists from those fields to work with Professor Krasnogor. The group will start working on programming e.coli bacteria.

Professor Krosnogor said that this project will develop new ways for scientists to easily reprogram the behavior of individual cells.

"If we succeed with this AUdACiOuS project, in five years time, we will be programming bacterial cells in the computer and compiling and storing its program into these new cells so they can readily execute them," he said in a statement.

The project will also mark the first time scientists have attempted to program a larger organism, previously scientists have only programmed individual cells. The applications for the new technology are varied. New microorganisms can be created to clean the environment by capturing carbon from fossil fuels or removing contaminants, e.g. arsenic from water sources.

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