Book – Erwin Schrödinger (1944), “What Is Life?” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (my edition is from 2002 – book cover above).

…living matter, while not eluding the “laws of physics” as established up to date, is likely to involve “other laws of physics” hitherto unknown, which however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of science as the former.“, Erwin Schrödinger (1944), Chapter VI, [1].

[…] The structure of DNA and the genetic code may have alluded us for some time more if Crick had not read Erwin Schrödinger‘s What Is Life? [1,2]. The research lead that Crick got by doing so was how a small set of repeating elements could give rise to a large number of combinatorial products, a mathematical relationship that Schrödinger illustrated using the Morse Code, based on an idea that he had actually got from the visionary work of Max Delbrück. Delbrück, Schrödinger and Crick were physicists with an enthusiasm for tackling the unknown for the natural world. Crick‘s own motivation came directly from reading What Is Life? [3]. It seemed reasonable to make the cross-over as the infant field of biochemistry was bound to be governed by the same chemical and physical laws revealed in other, non-biological, disciplines. This was especially true given the progressive focus of biology on the increasingly small, until an effective convergence of scales in the studies of the biologically relevant on the biologically irrelevant. Hence the justification for Schrödinger‘s unspecific book title. Although some of the notions in the book have been superseded by modern science, this remains a classic, written with great insight and modesty (Schrödinger downplays his potential as a biologist), and is worth the read if only as a portal in to the minds of those luminary workers. By the time Watson and Crick were piecing together the jigsaw that would lead to their grand discovery, the far-reaching potential of Schrödinger‘s code script had been aligned with Chargaff‘s finding of a variable sequence of nucleotide bases, and the stage was set for that immortal terminal sentence, “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” […], Derry, J. F. (2004). Review of What Is Life? By Erwin Schrödinger. Human Nature Review. 4: 124-125.

This is the first time any synthetic DNA has been in complete control of a cell“, Craig Venter, May 2010 (video below).

In 1953, when the structure of DNA was determined, there were 53 kilobytes of high-speed electronic storage on planet earth. Two entirely separate forms of code were set on a collision course. Primitive as it may be, we now have one of the long-awaited results.”, George Dyson, May 2010.

On April 9, 2010, 41 days ago, Science Journal receives a manuscript for revision signed by no least than 24 scientists. Then, 7 days ago it was accepted for publication. It was released today, May 20, 2010. And what we are now assisting today, is no less than a pivotal moment in Human history, in fact, a turning-point for the entire planet and it’s life. Entitled “Creation of a Bacterial Cell controlled by a Chemical Synthesized Genome” [4], the paper describes how these 24 scientists have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell. Being the ability to design and create new forms of life so extraordinary, that a truly scientific landmark was indeed today realized.  That’s  -indeed- one small step for synthetic biology, one giant leap for mankind.

The new cell, is in some-ways a code within a code. As science historian George Dyson points out, “from the point of view of technology, a code generated within a digital computer is now self-replicating as the genome of a line of living cells. From the point of view of biology, a code generated by a living organism has been translated into a digital representation for replication, editing, and transmission to other cells.”

First step was to previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another. Then, both methods were put together in order to create the present synthetic cell, even if only its genome is truly synthetic. By sequencing its genetic code and then using synthesis machines to chemically construct a copy, a different organism could then be form, taking the synthetic chromosome, and transplant it into a recipient cell. As Venter and his team point out, “As soon as this new software goes into the cell, that cell reads that software and converts the new cell into the species specified in that genetic code.”

We code it, and the new cell reads it. It’s anyhow of full interest to follow with caution their final words on the paper [4] (the entire work could be accessed here from where both pictures were depicted):

[…] If the methods described here can be generalized, design, synthesis, assembly, and transplantation of synthetic chromosomes will no longer be a barrier to the progress of synthetic biology. We expect that the cost of DNA synthesis will follow what has happened with DNA sequencing and continue to exponentially decrease. Lower synthesis costs combined with automation will enable broad applications for synthetic genomics. We have been driving the ethical discussion concerning synthetic life from the earliest stages of this work. Assynthetic genomic applications expand, we anticipate that this work will continue to raise philosophical issues that have broad societal and ethical implications. We encourage the continued discourse . […]

Watermarked on the new synthetic cell DNA (embedded) there is a quote from Richard Feynman:What I can not build I can not understand“. No matter what, from this point on, we should really re-question what Life is?

TED in the field video – Craig Venter unveils synthetic life, May 2010.

Ref. notes: [1] Erwin Schrödinger (1944), “What Is Life?” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (novel edition 2002). | [2] Francis Crick (1989) What Mad Pursuit. Penguin. | [3] James Watson (1981) The Double Helix. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. | [4] Daniel G. Gibson, John I. Glass, … Craig Venter et al., (2010), “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome“, Science Journal, released and visited on-line on May 20, 2010.