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For the first time in history, scientists have synthesized an artificial single-celled organism, capable of growing and dividing like living cells in nature. This organism has a bacterium-like appearance and is named JCVI-syn3A.
To get to today’s results, scientists have had to go through decades of research, experimentation, failure, and then restart research from scratch. This process requires them to unpack hundreds of synthetic genes and rearrange them like microscopic lego pieces under an electron microscope.
“Our goal is to understand the function of each of the individual genes in it, so that we can develop a fully functioning and functional cell model “said biological physicist James Pelletier with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The genes that control the cell’s fertility, it turns out, are the toughest but eventually successfully conquered by scientists. They said the JCVI-syn3A synthetic bacteria could become a premise for future bioreactor systems, synthesizing medicines, food and even fuels.
A study lasted for nearly 30 years
New research, published in the journal Cell, says that efforts to synthesize artificial cells have been around since the 1990s. However, by the early 2000s research into synthetic biology was barely at its feet. place.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the first remarkable milestone was established. In it, scientists have successfully synthesized an artificial virus that can infect bacteria. It is a stepping stone for the next research, but it will be until 7 years later that the second noteworthy milestone appears.
In a 2010 study that was considered extremely groundbreaking, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) under MIT successfully synthesized the first artificial bacterial cell in history.
It was named JCVI-syn1.0, and became the first organism on Earth to have a fully synthetic genome:
A few years later, the team at JCVI went one step further. They successfully shortened the artificial bacterium’s genome, making it a living bacterium with the shortest genome on the planet.
It was the birth of JCVI-syn3.0 version in 2016, which owns 473 artificial genes. In comparison, the E. coli bacteria in the wild have up to 4,000 genes and a human cell has more than 30,000 genes.
The small genomic size of JCVI-syn3.0 allows it to self-exist and initiate the mitotic process. However, scientists do not understand why the cell division process of this synthetic bacteria is happening in a very strange way.
They create new cells with a weird shape compared to stem cells. Newly born cells should be spherical and identical, some are filamentous and some put together in chains, even though their genes are still identical.
Why don’t cells divide evenly?
This has elicited the will of two scientists John Glass and Lijie Sun at JCIV. Together, they synthesized dozens of variants of JCVI-syn3.0 by adding and removing some genes from it and observing the effect of this process on bacterial cell division.
The work was assisted by James Pelletier, Elizabeth Strychalski and colleagues at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The role of NIST in this study is to create a tool to observe JCVI-syn3.0 cleavage under a microscope.
This is a challenge because usually, scientists only observe dead bacteria in place. Using a microscope to look at living cells, especially dividing cells, is much more difficult.
Since the cells are so small, fragile and in motion, any attempt to fix them still under an electron microscope will often end up ripping apart and killing bacteria in the blink of an eye.
To get around this problem, Strychalski and Pelletier designed a microfluidic filter that allows the living cells on it to resemble a vines. Since the cells will only creep in the direction of the microfilters, fixing them is no longer necessary.
Ultimately, this allowed scientists at MIT to see the results of their genetic fine-tuning.
It took about 5 years for the interdisciplinary team to reach today’s results. In particular, Glass and Sun at MIT have found 19 genes that stabilize the cell division process of JCVI-syn3.0.
After they added these 19 genes to the synthetic bacteria, JCVI-syn3.0 was transformed into JCVI-syn3A capable of stable division and produced plump cell versions, similar to the original JCVI-syn3A. above all.
As you can see in the video below, JCVI-syn3A are the first man-made organisms on Earth capable of dividing like bacterial cells in nature:
The future of artificial creatures
“JCVI-syn3A offers a minimalistic model for the development of general microbial physiological and engineering foundations.“Imagine what you could do with these artificial creatures in the future.”
Manipulating the bacterial genes means you can create any organism for any human purpose in the future: from fermenting bacteria, helping you to produce yogurt to bacteria create new-generation antibiotics, beneficial bacteria help regulate intestinal activity and also the bacteria that release biofuel.
Some bacteria can even be used to attack cancer cells, some can function as computers, with the storage and data processing that works by the biology of the genes. …
It can be said that creating an artificial bacteria is like a leap in agriculture, when farmers use plows instead of buffaloes. It promises a synthetic biological revolution that will happen in the future.
Even so, there may still be a long way to go. Scientists still do not fully understand JCVI-syn3A bacteria. While they added 19 new genes to the bacterium, only 7 are believed to have a role in stabilizing its cell division.
And of those seven, the scientists only identified the functions of two genes – called ftsZ and sepF. It is still unclear how the remaining 5 genes contribute to the mitotic process of JCVI-syn3A.
“Life is still a black box. But with this streamlined synthetic cell, scientists are getting a better look at what’s going on inside it.“JCVI-syn3A now continues to set a new milestone in the field of synthetic biology, a stepping stone for new, more advanced artificial organisms to be born in a few years,” said Strychalski.
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