Both synthetic biology and personal computing are informational sciences. They deal with the generation, storage, and transmission of information through the animate and the inanimate, respectively. At the conceptual level, the two are very similar. Surprisingly, the parallels do not end there. Just as personal computing has dramatically altered how we do things, synthetic biology is poised to revolutionize our world even further. The similarities include: Continue reading
Life is a spurt of energy at a point in space and time! Yet, the spurt isn’t a shot in the dark. There is a beautiful order in a life form’s interaction with other life forms, both during its life and over the course of evolution. As Carl Jung famously noted,
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”
The order is transmitted across progeny in the form of information stored in their genetic material. Order is what ensues on reception of the information. As randomness decreases, so does the entropy of the system. Continue reading
One of the most important sectors over human history has been energy. Energy has always been equivalent to power and wars for control have mostly been wars over energy. Woodstock and flowing water were the sole energy source for centuries. Next came fossil fuels, petroleum, natural gas, alternate sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power, nuclear energy, and biofuels, in very much this order itself.
There has always been a long gap, usually a few decades, from when an energy source becomes theoretically viable to when it becomes commercially viable. The delay is majorly due to two reasons. Continue reading
Synthetic biology isn’t restricted to engineered microbes alone. Though most applications, such as production of secondary metabolites, are better accomplished in microbes, there are diverse applications for which the higher plants are the best-suited candidates.
Plastids are plant organelles that are semi-autonomous of the plant cells that harbour them. They were endosymbionts that over the course of evolution have lost Continue reading
Paul W. K. Rothemund is a well known figure in synthetic biology and DNA nanotechnology for his pioneering work on DNA origami.
Origami is a traditional Japanese art of folding sheets of paper in a systematic manner to build beautiful structures. In DNA origami, the self-assembling nature of DNA is used to build 2D or 3D structures. DNA origami has potential applications in drug delivery systems, and as switches in DNA computation.
Here is a TED talk by Rothemund where he takes us through DNA folding.
Haruko Obokata, a biologist at RIKEN, grabbed headlines last month by discovering a phenomenon termed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP cells. The finding took the science community by surprise as it revealed that just squeezing or bathing cells in acidic conditions could turn them into pluripotent stem cells.
Role of transcription factors has been long appreciated in inducing pluripotency but none had considered the importance of external stress. Obokata got the insight when she noticed that cells squeezed through a capillary tube shrunk to size comparable to stem cells. Continue reading
Spaceflights are not as fun as they seem to be. Adverse effects of being in zero gravity for long include muscular dystrophy, osteopenia, reduced RBC production and a weakened immune system For long, these effects were credited to increased exposure to radiation and drastically different micro-environment. Recent molecular evidence suggests a more basic cause – differential expression of stem cells. Continue reading
The parallels between living beings and computers are well established in the manner both store and process information digitally. Interestingly, the two informational sciences of personal computing and synthetic biology are also parallel in the way the former did and the later would revolutionize the way we do things. Continue reading
No matter how much the creationists stress, we were not built from scratch by some universal governing entity, but are descendents of a common entity that self-replicated. Just as selection decides which species shall survive, selection long, long ago would have favoured molecules which were better at producing copies of themselves – one of the basic characteristics of life. The two survivors of that ancient era are well known – the RNA and the DNA.
The oldest tale is the story of the DNA. Continue reading
A large number of asymmetric divisions are involved in making a multi-cellular organism out of a single zygote. At each point of branching of these myriad cell lines is a progenitor cell which is termed the stem cell. The rest branch out from it. Also, the potential for growth in the cells at these early stages of development is almost infinite, comparable only to cancerous cells. Many morphogens which regulate development share common structural features with proto-oncogenes and oncogenes. Completing
the beautiful threesome of multi-cellular life