University of Nottingham researchers are currently involved in synthetic biology project, whose scope and prospects are so ambitious, that if successful it will completely revolutionize the field of science. Their aim – developing programmable cellular life which can work as an “operating system.”
Currently, scientists are looking studying how to make the E. coli bacteria programmable, and if their trials provide to be successful, then it means they’ll be able to easily and quickly configure other cells to perform various tasks. The E. coli bacteria has been used by British scientists from London’s Imperial College to create a bio-transistor. They can also make new life forms altogether, which currently do not exist in nature to fit a certain purpose. This particular aspect of synthetic biology has earned its practitioners a bad reputation among creationalists, who dub their work “playing God”.
Professor Natalio Krasnogor of the University’s School of Computer Science, who leads the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Systems Research Group, said: “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.”
More importantly, if the researchers manage to pass the finish line with their project, the resulting in vivo biological cell-equivalent of a computer operating system will be able to generate a database of easy-to-implement cellular programs that would allow the entire field of synthetic biology to move exponentially faster toward discoveries rather than inch forward by trial and error, the rate at which is today. The Nottingham scientists are confident that this can be achievable in five years time.
Practical applications of this kind of bio-technology would be inestimable in their output value. Customized living cells could be tailored to clean up environmental disasters, scrub unwanted carbon from the air, pull pollutants from drinking water, attack pathogens inside the human body, protect food sources from agricultural pests, and so on. You get the picture, this is the kind of thing that can bring man into a golden age of science.