Syn3.0’s creation was in part trial and error, in which scientists added and removed genes until it sustained life and allowed for reproduction. Venter is now paring down the genomes of other organisms to “get a better understanding of how much biological knowledge we are missing.”
In addition to its genetic mysteries, syn3.0 is smaller and grows faster than M. genitalium, making it more practical for lab work. Thanks to the organism’s creation, synthetic biologists are learning more about customizing cells, such as for development of highly effective drugs and energy alternatives to fossil fuels.
The organism’s creation comes at a time when CRISPR gene editing, which allows scientists to edit DNA in cells, is revolutionizing biology. Some geneticists say that gene editing of existing genomes is a better path to manipulating organisms than creating a new genome design outright.
But both techniques have their place in biology, Venter says. Creating genomes offers a fresh platform on which to design life, while CRISPR works well for altering existing genes. “We have used CRISPR tools to make point mutations and to correct errors,” Venter says. “They are good tools, but to create you need to make something that can be edited.”