Molecule by simulated molecule, scientists have just re-created a complete life form in a computer. It’s not a sexy blue tinted avatar, a Tron-ified monkey or even a naked mole rat, it’s a bacterium. When playing god for the first time, Stamford University had to start small, so they’ve picked a sexually transmitted parasitic bacterium to come to digital life based on data compiled from over 900 research papers. This makes it the most exact replica of an STD ever created.
Mycoplasma genitalium’s effects on the human body are something like that of Chlamydia. It was picked to replicate because of its status as the organism with the 2nd smallest genome ever discovered. According to the dailymail, Stamford scientists didn’t re-create the bacteria to figure out ways to stop painful urination, but rather as a stepping stone to understanding the complex interaction of numerous genes with each other and further the knowledge base of biology in general. As an added benefit, computer simulated life could serve as a roadmap towards making new tailored synthetic life.
It is the hope of Stamford biophysics grad student Jonathan Karr that the use of computer assisted design (CAD) to create complete biological schematics as blueprints for new life forms could cause a revolution bio-engineering. Not only does he hope the technology can be used to create synthetic life capable of mass producing pharmaceuticals but he envisions a future where human scale simulations could open whole new areas in personalized medicine. As Karr points out though, “This is potentially the new Human Genome Project. It’s going to take a really large community effort to get close to a human model.”
Until researchers have moved on towards mapping even larger organisms, you’ll know whether or not your computer has been messing around with the Stamford mainframe if it tells you it burns when it pees.