Cell Revision: A Computer Program for Designing Real-Life Organisms

Tinkercell is desktop tool for designing cells, just as you would design a building.

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Modern biologists can already unpack and rebuild the DNA in a bacterium or cell. And that allows them to create new, synthetic organisms with brand new properties and capabilities—which one day might range from breaking down toxic waste to manufacturing drugs. In other words, biologists are now architects. And they're using the tools of architecture as well.

Tinkercell, developed by Deepak Chandran, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, is a full-on computer program for designing cells and bacteria, and simulating how they'll behave. Much like the computer programs that allow architects to design building, Tinkercell allows a user to drag and drop various cell components—from membrane proteins to genes to enzymes—and link them together in a virtual organism. All of these have properties modeled inside the program. When a user is finished with a design, the program can run a simulation, to see if the arrangement works as desired.

For now, the complexity of the program—which is currently open-source and usable by anyone—is well over the head of anyone with some hardcore biology chops, as this video proves:

But the idea is to make the design of synthetic organisms easier, faster, and more intuitive. Next stop: The future, where almost anyone with the will can design life at home.

[Via New Scientist]

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