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synthetic biology

Illustration for "How Many Genes Do Cells Need? Maybe Almost All of Them"
genomics

How Many Genes Do Cells Need? Maybe Almost All of Them

An ambitious study in yeast shows that the health of cells depends on the highly intertwined effects of many genes, few of which can be deleted together without consequence.

520px 3D illustration of tissue curling
Abstractions blog

Tissue Engineers Hack Life’s Code for 3-D Folded Shapes

Mechanical tension between tethered cells cues developing tissues to fold. Researchers can now program synthetic tissue to make coils, cubes and rippling plates.

Illustration: altered DNA in bears
synthetic biology

Is a Bigger Genetic Code Better? Get Ready to Find Out

Evolution settled on a genetic code that uses four letters to name 20 amino acids. Synthetic biologists adding new bases to DNA will be free to improve on nature — if they can.

In the ongoing controversy over whether and how to use a powerful new genome editing technology in the wild to achieve conservation and public health goals, two new papers urge caution.
Abstractions blog

New Model Warns About CRISPR Gene Drives in the Wild

Two new papers urge caution in using powerful genome-editing technology against invasive species: Models show that aggressive gene drives can’t be contained in the wild.

origins of life

Life’s First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests

Which mattered first at the dawn of life: proteins or nucleic acids? Proteins may have had the edge if a theorized process let them grow long enough to become self-replicating catalysts.

evolution

Genetic Engineering to Clash With Evolution

Gene drives promise to spread a trait across an entire population. But evolutionary forces are going to alter even the best-engineered plans.

synthetic biology

In Newly Created Life-Form, a Major Mystery

Scientists have created a synthetic organism that possesses only the genes it needs to survive. But they have no idea what roughly a third of those genes do.

Q&A

In Warm, Greasy Puddles, the Spark of Life?

The biologist David Deamer proposes that life evolved from a collection of interacting molecules, probably in a pool in the shadow of a volcano.

Biology

New Letters Added to the Genetic Alphabet

Scientists hope that new genetic letters, created in the lab, will endow DNA with new powers.