Scientists Build The First Bacterial Genome Using A Computer Algorithm

  • Biologists successfully develop a genome of a bacterium using a computer algorithm.
  • The algorithm utilizes the redundancy of the genetic code and computes the ideal sequence of DNA for constructing genome.
  • In the future, the method could be applied to all microorganisms.

The complete set of DNA of an organism, including all of its genes are known as the genome. Every single genome consists of information needed to develop and maintain that organism.

For years, scientists have been trying to program biological functions into artificial DNA sequences. Now researchers at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed a genome of a bacterium — Caulobacter ethensis 2.0 — using a computer algorithm.

This is the first time someone has come up with a fully computer-produced genome of a living organism. Although it has been physically created in the form of a large DNA molecule, no corresponding organism exists yet.

Caulobacter ethensis 2.0 is based on harmless freshwater bacterial genome named Caulobacter crescentus. It naturally occurs in lakes, rivers, and spring water, and most commonly used in the research lab to examine bacteria’s life.

They Made It A Lot Easier To Produce Genome

In order to chemically synthesize the genome of Caulobacter crescentus from scratch, the researchers took minimal genome of this bacterium as an initial point. In biology, chemically synthesizing bacterial genome is one of the most challenging tasks.

11 years ago, another team of 20 scientists presented a synthetic bacterial genome: it took them 10 years to build it and the cost of the overall project was nearly $40 million. While they developed a precise replica of a natural genome, researchers in this study completely changed their genome using an algorithm.

The motivation of this project was to make the genome production process easier while addressing fundamental questions in biology.

Reference: PNAS | doi:10.1073/pnas.1818259116 | ETH Zurich 

The team carefully synthesized 236 segments of the genome. The process is not as easy as it sounds: DNA sequence can easily twist themselves into knots and loops, making the manufacturing impossible.

They developed an algorithm to optimally utilize the redundancy of the genetic code. The algorithm efficiently evaluated the ideal sequence of DNA for constructing genome.

The researchers applied several small modifications to the minimal genome: they replaced over 1/6th of all the 800,000 DNA letters in the artificial genome. The algorithm entirely restructured the genome into a new DNA sequence while preserving its biological functions at the protein level.

Applications

What took 10 years with the previous approach, the new technology achieved within a year with a manufacturing cost of $120,000. The current algorithm can be further improved to generate a completely functional genome version 3.0.

The future applications include synthetic microorganisms that can be used to create intricate pharmaceutically active molecules. The method is not just limited to Caulobacter: it could be applied universally for all microorganisms. Also, it is possible to develop DNA vaccines through this technology.

Read: Microsoft Has Built A Completely Automated DNA Data Storage

Although it isn’t clear when we are going to see the world’s first bacterium with an artificial genome, this research has made it clear that it will be produced in the near future.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received M.tech degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at varunkmr09@gmail.com. 

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