Computer

How can the computer chip predict the future of gene synthesis? Researchers say developments in computer chips could shed light on the future of synthetic biology

How can the computer chip predict the future of gene synthesis?  Researchers say developments in computer chips could shed light on the future of synthetic biology

The creation of synthetic life could be easily within reach soon based on a comparison with the evolution of computer chips.

Computer programming and gene synthesis seem to have little in common. But according to Andrew Steckl, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, a leading researcher from Ohio, technological advances in the former make him optimistic about the possibility of manufacturing genes at scale.

Steckl and his student, Joseph Riolo, used the development history of microchips and large-scale computing software platforms as a predictive model to understand another complex system, synthetic biology. Steckl said the project was inspired by feedback from another student in his group, Eliot Gomez.

“No analogy is perfect. DNA doesn’t meet certain definitions of digital code,” Riolo said, “but there are many ways in which the genome and software code are comparable.”

According to the UC study, synthetic biology has the potential to be “the next epochal human technological advancement after microelectronics and the Internet.” Its applications are limitless, from the creation of new biofuels to the development of new medical treatments.

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute created the first synthetic organism in 2010 when they transplanted an artificial Mycoplasma mycoides genome into another bacterial cell. This relatively simple artificial genome took 15 years to develop at a cost of over $40 million.

But using computer chip development as a guide, Steckl said we can infer that the speed and cost of producing similar synthetic life could follow a similar trajectory as the performance and cost of electronics in the world. over time.

The article highlights the comparison and similarities between biological and digital coding languages ​​in terms of alphabet, words and sentences. However, the authors point out that the coding of DNA – the combinations of adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine that make up a genome – only tells part of the complex story of genes and omits things like epigenetics.

“There are all sorts of caveats, but we need a zero-order comparison to start down this road,” said Steckl, a distinguished research professor who holds joint positions in electrical engineering, engineering biomedical and materials engineering at UC’s College of Engineering and Applied. Science.

“Can we compare the complexity of programming a fighter jet or a Mars rover to the complexity associated with creating the genome of a bacterium? Steckl asked. “Are they of the same order or are they significantly more complicated?

“Either biological organisms are much more complicated and represent the most complicated ‘programming’ that has ever been done – so there is no way to duplicate it artificially – or maybe they are of the same order as the creating the coding for an F-35 fighter jet or a luxury car, then maybe it’s possible.”

Moore’s Law is a predictive model for the advancement of computer chips. Named for computer scientist Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, it suggests that advances in technology are enabling exponential growth of transistors on a single computer chip.

And 55 years after Moore penned his theory, we still see it at work in three-dimensional microchips, even though the advances offer lesser performance and power reduction benefits than earlier advances.

Since 2010, according to the study, the price of gene editing and genome synthesis has fallen by about half every two years, as Moore’s Law suggests.

“This would mean that synthesizing an artificial human genome could cost around $1 million, and simpler applications like a custom bacterium could be synthesized for as little as $4,000,” the authors said in the study.

“This combination of surmountable complexity and moderate cost justifies the academic craze for synthetic biology and will continue to inspire interest in the rules of life,” the study concludes.

Similarly, Steckl said bioengineering could become an integral part of virtually every industry and science in the same way that computer science has grown from a niche discipline to an essential component of most science.

“I see a correlation between how computing has evolved as a discipline. Now you see heavy computing in all scientific disciplines,” Steckl said. “I see something similar happening in the world of biology and bioengineering. Biology is everywhere. It will be interesting to see how these things evolve.”

Steckl and Riolo agree that the ability to create artificial life does not necessarily carry the moral burden or authority to do so.

“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” Steckl said. “It’s not as simple as we should be doing it because we can do it. You also have to consider the philosophical or even religious implications.”