Not to be outdone by Dutch, German and other Europeans now officially dabbling in synthetic cell research, America’s National Science Foundation has thrown its hat into the ring on funding synthetic cell development, per its April 18, 2018 letter to colleagues inviting proposals on the design and engineering of synthetic cells and cell components ($100K for relevant conferences, $300K re multicomponent subsystems, and up to $1M for research on the “pseudo-cell”). In May, following its call for proposals, NSF co-sponsored a synthetic and artificial cells roadmap meeting in Alexandria, Virginia with a handful of scientists already working in the field presenting and others in the audience looking to be educated.
Some highlights from a roundup of the May meeting:
As an engineer [Richard M.] Murray thinks replication is not so important in building a synthetic cell. Murray said it will be 30 years before the synthetic cell is developed and that no single lab can do it—it has to be a collaborative effort.
[Stanford bioengineers Drew] Endy considers the job 80% technical and 20% “anthropological”. He said making the cell would not be acheived just within academic circles. Endy also addressed motive in syncell development asking: “Are we simply going to invoke a name of building cells to do what we’re already doing?”
[University of Minnesota physicist Vincent Noireaux from 2014:] The ultimate goal of what we are doing is the minimal cell, but first we have to understand the relationship between information and self-organization. Where we are right now is that we have the most versatile and powerful cell-free transcription-translation system reported so far for synthetic biology applications.
Suzan Mazur: So time-wise where are you with development of a minimal cell that can self-reproduce?
Vincent Noireaux: It may be early to give an estimation of how many years. We have a system which we think is relatively close to a minimal cell. More.
Researchers keep discovering new systems in cells. Minimizing or obviating what has not yet been discovered is going to be a challenge…
See also: Suzan Mazur on mechanobiology, the next level of understanding of the cell
Cells are chock full of information systems, not just DNA
Origin of life: What we do and don’t know about the origin of life.