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By Femi OlawuYi

Femi OlawuyiThe concept of “digitizing life” through reading and writing genetic code to produce synthetic DNA is very impressive. This confluence of life science and computer science has greatly helped medical science use nonorganic and biological materials together on the drive to enhance research on the human genome. The practical example is the creation of computer software to write genetic code in digital format that can be introduced and read by the DNA in the biological systems.

I believe that genetic engineering holds the future of medical science! The success of producing digitized DNA from oligonucleotides by J. Craig Venter and his team is an eye-opener to what biomedical scientists can do with genetic engineering, as he discusses in a 2008 video. My only fear is the risk of genetic error, as indicated by Venter, especially when the encoded data is interrupted by a mutation, whether deletion, substitution, or insertion.

One fascinating prospect shared in the video was the introduction of using an inert chemical in bacteria to produce a viral particle that eventually kills E. coli. This practical example shows how a biological system can read nonbiological materials to produce synthetic genetic materials.

Venter also raises the prospect of designing cells that will use carbon dioxide to produce fuel. Others have already begun using biological material to do this.

The use of algae to produce green crude oil by Sapphire Energy is one fascinating example. Their process uses algae, sunlight, and carbon dioxide to produce synthetic fuel. So instead of going through the stress of traditional crude oil production with high carbon, green crude oil that can be refined is produced from nonorganic material through biochemical techniques. What an interesting and brilliant concept!

If scientists can use software to program DNA into biological systems to produce fuel, why can’t we artificially synthesize molecules that yield therapeutic benefits such as fighting cancer?

Femi Olawuyi is a graduate student of Biotechnology Department, University of Maryland University College (UMUC), Md, and an AAPS graduate student member.