Star genetics Craig Venter, the creator of a bacterium with a minimal genome, developed a device that synthesizes complex biomolecules – from small peptides to RNA and DNA. In order to assemble a DNA molecule, the device only needs its digital description and precursor solutions.
Craig Venter became famous as a scientist who compiled a map of the human genome – true, then he had to share his private institute’s data with the Human Genome project. After that, Venter devoted himself to creating an artificial life. To some extent, he did it: in 2010, Veter’s laboratory developed an artificial culture of bacteria, from the DNA of which Venter cleared out all the “extra” genes – those without which microorganisms could live and reproduce.
The artificial genome was assembled almost manually, bacterial help was required only at the last stages of “assembling” a long DNA molecule. The smallest building blocks – nucleotide precursors and nucleotides themselves – were synthesized in the laboratory, then combined into long chains, and only the final synthesis of DNA from these chains was entrusted to beer yeast. The man-made bacterium with a minimal genome was called “Cynthia”: Craig generally prefers the term “synthesized” to the word “artificial” when it comes to his work.
It was seven years ago. Now the help of bacteria to Venter is not needed, as are the numerous contractors – biotechnological companies, to whom the institute of Venter ordered the synthesis of DNA fragments for Cynthia. In the company Venter Synthetic Genomics built a machine capable of synthesizing huge chains of nucleotides in general without human intervention. “Ink” for this bioprinter are nucleotide solutions, and at the output exactly biomolecules are obtained, which are described in the instructions that the device receives via the Internet. The machine was named Digital-to-Biological Converter, or DBC.
Previously, Venter negotiated with Ilon Mask: the head of SpaceX liked the idea of sending a DNA printer to Mars in order to synthesize terraforming bacteria on the ground, following instructions sent from Earth. But the development has less futuristic applications: in particular, DBC can be used to synthesize vaccines and medicines where delivery is associated with great difficulties – for example, at the International Space Station or in remote areas of the Earth.