Over the past few decades, the genomes of most of the major organisms on Earth have been determined and successfully been fed too into the databases for their world-wide use. The Human genome project has been documented for most of the known genes in humans and has revealed quite astonishing information to the researchers. There was once a time when the genomic data was nowhere in sight. But now that we have the genome information of most of the species, one question can be and infact, is being raised that is if we can create these genome blueprints to create a full functional organism.
The complexity of the organism in question doesn't matter for as long as we concern ourselves with the search for the basic mechanisms involved in raising an organism from their genetic blueprint. The less complex organisms need to be put in question before the complex ones like humans or animals. The first step has been taken by three researchers named Jeronimo Cello, Aniko Paul and Eckard Wimmer. They used all the genomic data available for a virus and then they build a fully functional virus from the scratch. They have successfully created a polio virus which appears entirely normal and have its usual functional characteristics. Their discovery has made an ever remarkable note in the book of science which clearly points out that to achieve a biological function only physical pieces need to be assembled. During their discovery, poliovirus appeared to have a chemical formula of [C332,652H492,388N98,245O131,196P7501S2340]. That would mean 332,652 atoms of carbon, 492,388 atoms of hydrogen, 98,245 atoms of nitrogen, 131,196 atoms of oxygen, 7501 atoms of phosphate and 2340 atoms of sulphur. It basically suggests that each and every organism may have their own separate chemical formulas on the basis of which they could be designed from scratch just like the poliovirus has been designed. The researchers states that if the ability to replicate is an attribute of life then the poliovirus is a chemical with a life cycle.
Structure wise, poliovirus is quite a simple virus. It is composed of a single strand of RNA which is 7741 bases long lengthwise and 60 copies of each of four proteins are present. These components of the structure of poliovirus defines its infectivity. In order to create an infectious virus, these pieces were required to be constructed first and then assembled according to the basic structure and composition of a poliovirus. Using the nucleotide sequence databases available over the web, Jeronimo Cello, Aniko Paul and Eckard Wimmer searched the nucleotide sequence for the poliovirus. Later, they utilized commercially available pieces of DNA to cover the whole sequence of the virus and thus assembled them to create a double stranded DNA form of the viral genome. Using a RNA polymerase enzyme that was purified recently, viral RNA was created from this DNA template. Further, the obtained RNA template was introduced to a cellular extract containing cytoplasm of human cell. The extract was made in such a way that it provided all the basic machineries and molecules required for the protein synthesis and resulted into production of viral protein from RNA. The separate parts were then assembled to give rise to a fully functional poliovirus. The four separate poliovirus proteins were formed by the action of natural proteases present in the extract.
Although the creation of a living cell only by the knowledge of its genomic data is far-fetched. It is too difficult to create a fully functional organism entirely from its genome. Cell is the basic machinery of an organism's body and most of the information related to metabolism and other functions is stored in it. There are a few aspects of cell that are only genetically acquired; some are such that the information that they are encoded in the DNA is still not available, e.g., the shape of mitochondria, the double layer form of the nuclear membrane. Neglecting these factors will only result in huge experimental loss.
Moreover, there are certain aspects of the cell that are epigenetically transferred. Thus while constructing artificial cells, or in more suitable words, genetic engineering of artificial cells, these other aspects should be kept in mind and then the pieces must be assembled to give rise to an artificial life. Hopefully, we can expect several such achievements to come by in future years as the application of bionanotechnology is increasing evidently.
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A Budding biotechnologist + writer from India.. Visit http://in.linkedin.com/pub/shivani-sharma/4b/91b/384 or refer firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Researcher ID- J-4200-2012