Monday, 19 May 2014


… every living thing, every leaf, every bird… is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word.
Words are life … All those blank pages; they’re for you to fill.

(from movie “The Book Thief” - 2013)  

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Synthetic Life

  • "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph and to recreate life out of life." 

from semi-autobiographical novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916)  by James Joyce.

  • "See things not as they are, but as they might be." 

from the book, American Prometheus which is about Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of first atomic bomb.

  • "What I cannot build, I cannot understand."

A quote ascribed to physicist and philosopher Richard Feynman as the last words on his blackboard at the time of his death.

May 20, 2010 is a day to remember in human history. On this day four years ago, researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute announced the creation of first self replicating synthetic bacteria (M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0). It was an organism that was programmed on a computer one base pair at a time. Then it was booted up in a recipient cell and behold, it started to divide.

In case, you are still wondering about the relevance of above three quotations; these were the watermarks written inside the DNA of that bacterium along with the names of its 46 creators and a web address.

The field of synthetic biology has advanced a lot in the past four years. Now life's basic alphabets can be extended and there is talk of using 3D printers to create synthetic life in near future. But these are just the baby steps as compared to the shape of thing to come. In the times ahead, man-made organisms would dominate medicine, chemical and energy sectors. 

Such artificial life forms might also carry the stories of their creations within their genomes. Eons from now, future archaeologist might stumble upon these watermarks. Would they be able to understand the aspirations of their designers; admire the ingenuity of the architects and feel the awe of their creators at the moment of inception?

I wonder.