Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed the world’s first computer generated genome.
While the genome had been physically produced in the form of a big DNA molecule, the organism doesn’t exist yet.
The genome was based on Caulobacter ethensis as a base. This bacteria doesn’t cause diseases and is used as a model organism for studying bacteria.
It has 4,000 genes, and only about 680 of them are needed for it to survive in the lab.
About 11 years ago Craig Venter managed to synthesise the bacteria’s genome from scratch, which took about 20 scientists 10 years to do with a $40 million budget.
This new genome, Caulobacter ethensis 2.0 however isn’t just a copy, its actually been radically changed via a computer algorithm.
Part of the challenge in doing this was that DNA molecules tend to stick together, and become a tangled mess.
So the first thing the scientists had to do was simplify the DNA sequence, which they could do because nature has a lot of built in redundancies.
The new genome only has 580 functional genes, but the scientists are working on creating a biologically viable version.
They know this because while the whole thing hasn’t been turned bacteria yet, segments of the genome were tested bit by bit to try and see if there was anything they missed.
Using the knowledge from that they’re currently having another go at it to try and get that last hundred genomes.
That said they managed to change about a sixth of the 800,000 DNA letters in the artificial genome, while maintaining its biological functions.
“What took ten years with Craig Venter’s approach, our small group achieved with our new technology within the time frame of one year with manufacturing costs of 120,000 Swiss francs,” Beat Venter, one of the scientists in charge of the project, said in a statement.
One of the arguments for creationism is the argument from complexity. You see that in analogies to paintings and watches found on the beach.
The thing is the hallmark of design is not complexity, but rather simplicity. What scientists did with this new, actually intelligently designed genome, is not something you find in a naturally occurring organism.
With evolution what you get is stuff developing out of stuff. An arm is really a mutated foreleg, and a wing is really a mutated arm.
As a result of this, nature is actually pretty messy, so when trying to mimic nature the first step we take is – reduce the complexity.
In order to paint someone, you don’t have to reproduce their internal organs, their nervous system, their brain chemistry or anything like that, you can just paint what you see on the surface.
And a watch, well, it has all the parts it needs to perform its functions, maybe a bit of decoration, and that’s it. A watch is simple by design, life being un-designed generally isn’t.
The analogies used to sell creationism thus don’t make sense to me. If we’re looking for design we’re looking for simplicity, so why would we take the opposite to suddenly indicate design?
- Picture courtesy of ETH Zurich via Eurekalert.