Building the Human Genome from scratch

Efficiency trends in DNA sequencing (green) and synthesis of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA, blue) and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA, red) over the past ~35 years. The disruptive improvement in sequencing and ssDNA (oligonucleotides) synthesis technologies has improved from multiplex and miniaturization technologies in high-throughput DNA sequencing and oligo microarray technologies, respectively. Credit: Jef D. Boeke et al./Science

Over the past 20 years the progress in reading the genome have been amazing, progressing at a faster pace than Moore's law. 
Moore's law has been at the core of the progress but in the case of sequencing the genome it is possible to use parallel processing (using molecular computing) and then order the results from the parallel sequentialisation using ever more sophisticated software running on parallel machines. This explains the faster than Moore's progress.

We have also seen significant progress in "splicing" technologies, the last one being CRISPR, allowing the composition of DNA strands like playing with Lego bricks.

What we have not been able to do is the build up of genomes starting from scratch, using individual molecules and composing them into the double helix (we have progress pretty fast in creating single strand, though -see the graph).

Now scientists are embarking on the HGP-write (Human Genome Project -write) that will be flanking the ongoing European Flagship project HGP (Human Genome Project), this latter being focussed on reading the HG, understanding it and replicating some of the basic concepts in new computation structures.

Of course the HGP-write will use the information and knowledge deriving from HGP-read, but it will focus on creating DNA strands that can be used for practical application in health care, agriculture, chemicals and bio-remediation. The goal is quite ambitious: creating DNA that can create "bio-machines" able to perform specific tasks.  

In a way we are already doing this by modifying existing bio-machines, like bacteria, to perform specific tasks, like cleaning the oceans from oil spil by engineering bacteria that can dissolve the oil. The HGP-write aims at creating these bio-machines from scratch, thus providing greater flexibility.

Ethical issues are obvious, and so are potential undesired side effects. Hence one of the main endeavour in the project is to address these issues from the start.

If successful it will bring a new amazingly powerful tool o humanity.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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