But not unlike the way complex erector sets can elucidate some of the basic rules of physics and engineering, constructing—and deconstructing and reconstructing—whole genomes might help clarify genomic principles. Scientists, for instance, do not yet know what role or importance the order of genes in the genome plays. In some cases, genes can have their order swapped with little visible outcome on life, whereas a specific sequence might be more important elsewhere on the genome.
To decipher such basic genetic puzzles, one of Venter’s co-author, Daniel G. Gibson, an institute molecular biologist, says that the researchers will also attempt to create the simplest genome possible that can still permit life. “This will help us to understand the function of every gene in a cell and what DNA is required to sustain life in its simplest form,” he explains. He guesses this genome will be half as big as the bacterial genome they created.
As for those first synthetic cells, their time in the spotlight has ended for the moment. Currently they lie dormant in a Venter Institute freezer.
This article was originally published with the title Tools for Life.