Scientists create ‘designer enzymes’

Chemists from UCLA and the University of Washington have succeeded in creating “designer enzymes,” a major milestone in computational chemistry and protein engineering.

Designer enzymes will have applications for defense against biological warfare, by deactivating pathogenic biological agents, and for creating more effective medications.

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Craig Venter: On the verge of creating synthetic life

Can we create new life out of our digital universe?” asks Craig Venter. And his answer is, yes, and pretty soon. He walks the TED2008 audience through his latest research into “fourth-generation fuels” — biologically created fuels with CO2 as their feedstock. His talk covers the details of creating brand-new chromosomes using digital technology, the reasons why we would want to do this, and the bioethics of synthetic life. A fascinating Q&A with TED’s Chris Anderson follows .  

Bioengineers Devise ‘Dimmer Swith’ To Regulate Gene Expression In Mammal Cells

Three Boston University biomedical engineers have created a genetic dimmer switch that can be used to turn on, shut off, or partially activate a gene’s function. Professor James Collins, Professor Charles Cantor and doctoral candidate Tara Deans invented the switch, which can be tuned to produce large or small quantities of protein, or none at all

This switch helps advance the field of synthetic biology, which rests on the premise that complex biological systems can be built by arranging components or standard parts, as an electrician would to build an electric light switch. Much work in the field to date uses bacteria or yeast, but the Boston University team used more complex mammalian cells, from hamsters and mice. The switch has several new design features that extend possible applications into areas from basic research to gene therapy.

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Reprogramming Biology

Visionary futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose remarkable ideas on technological progress have been an inspiration for Biosingularity blogs, have a wonderful concise article on biological advances in recent issue of Scientific American

As a scientist working on biological systems I fully agree and whole heartedly support Kurzweil's observations that: " Biology is now in the early stages of an historic transition to an information science, while also gaining the tools to reprogram the ancient information systems of life ….. We are now beginning to understand biology as a set of information processes, and we're developing realistic models and simulations of how the processes involved in disease and aging progress. Moreover, we are developing the tools to reprogram them."

In the article Kurzweil predicts that tinkering with our genetic programs will extend human lifespan beyond the current limits. He also reiterates that biological systems are also subject to the "law of accelerating returns", which had tremendous impact on information technologies. Indeed, the cost of sequencing and synthesizing gene base pairs have decreased more than 10,000 fold over the last 15 years, and this exponential progress is currently accelerating as predicted by Kurzweil in his recent book. 

Read rest of the article at Scientific American web site.
 

First synthetic biology company is launched

Synthetic Genomics, Inc., a company founded by the genome sequencing pioneer Dr. J. Craig Venter, is developing new scientific processes to enable industry to design and test desired genetic modifications. Using the genome as a bio-factory, a custom designed, modular “cassette” system will be developed so that the organism executes specific molecular functions. Synthetically produced organisms with reduced or reoriented metabolic needs will enable new, powerful, and more direct methods of bio-engineered industrial production.

According to Dr. Venter: “Work in creating a synthetic chromosome/genome will give us a better understanding of basic cellular processes. Genome composition, regulatory circuits, signaling pathways and numerous other aspects of organism gene and protein function will be better understood through construction of a synthetic genome. Not only will this basic research lead to better understanding of these pathways and components in the particular organisms, but also better understanding of human biology. The ability to construct synthetic genomes may lead to extraordinary advances in our ability to engineer microorganisms for many vital energy and environmental purposes.”

This is a very exciting new step towards biosingularity. Dr. Venter is a true visionary who has been relentlessly pushing the technology to decode the complex program of biological systems.
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