Friday, November 8, 2013

Concepts in Synthetic Biology: SynBio Simulations Inc.

"Got a synthetic biology project or concept, but lack the tools and facilities to bring it to life? Got something that won't fit in a petri dish? Let Synthetic Biology Simulations Incorporated (SBSI) lend you our years of experience and world-class facilities. We have a fully staffed zoological wing that can handle anything your imagination and our technicians can synthesize. From single species studies, to small-scale engineered ecosystems, we have the expertise and experience to handle your projects safely and efficiently."
BIOlogy :: Synthetic Biology Simulation Incorporated (SBSI) is a fictional institution exploring what a future may look like when we gain a good enough understanding of DNA and how to manipulate it. One day we will be able to create entirely synthetic life, from bacteria up to and including animals like livestock and novel creations for entertainment, studies, and completely engineered ecosystems.

Simulations & Synthesizing

A better understanding of genes not only allows us to manipulate them better in a lab, but gives us the ability to create better simulations. Genetic simulations, a computer model that tells us the characteristics of a particular genetic code and how it might respond to a given environment or stimuli can be used as is to test a single organism, or run simulations on entire lineages of selectively (or randomly) bred organisms. What would normally take nature or breeders hundreds, thousands, or millions of years to accomplish, can be done at the speed of our fastest processors.

SBSI's laboratory SBSI's severs run 24/7 extrapolating millions of years of genome evolution in a fraction of the time it takes nature. Simulations can spot-check evolutionary trees by actually synthesizing organisms and studying them first hand. Several organisms separated by thousands of years of natural evolution can be synthesized and studied in parallel.

While actual selective breeding takes a long time, and at any given time you only have specimens with one set of characteristics to study, simulations can allow us to develop several lineages in parallel. Along the timeline of any given lineage, several versions of a particular species can be synthesized in the lab and compared in parallel, first-hand.

SBSI's laboratory would synthesize all projects big and small. It would also observe and analyze synthetic micro-organisms. Larger organisms would have to be housed in SBSI's zoological wing.

This is where an institution like SBSI would come in, doing both of these for clients. Safely handling synthesized life, keeping it in and other contaminants out, would require a specialized skill set and customized facilities where a good track record would be important.

SBSI's zoological wing handles larger specimens that cannot be contained on mere petri dishes. A cross between a veterinarian clinic, a zoo, and a laboratory, the zoological wing is a showcase for some of SBSI's most impressive work. Larger enclosures are available, as well as modular, wheeled enclosures for smaller specimens.

We could imagine that in the future nearly anyone would be able to create and contain synthetic organisms of any size, however, larger facilities like SBSI's not only would allow large specimens to be contained, but could be used to study entire engineered ecosystems. 

Instead of just a miniature elephant breed, perhaps there would be a whole list of interdependent, specially synthesized organisms that were being developed for a particular climate or environment. These could be tested together at a facility like SBSI.

In the future humans may eventually begin building larger, torus shaped space habitats with large, permanent populations. Gravity may or may not be similar to that on Earth, depending on the centripetal forces able to be achieved by the habitat's rotation. Lighting conditions may also vary. Engineering ecosystems better suited to the atmospheric, gravitational, and lighting conditions that would exist there could be the key to making these habitats more livable and self-sustaining.

Similarly engineered ecosystems could be created to colonize Mars. While humans spend time terraforming the surface to something more closely resembling Earth, engineered ecosystems could start at the other end, designed to flourish in existing Martian conditions, and gradually be modified as terraforming took place. A facility like SBSI would be essential to develop and study such engineered ecosystems before implementation. 

Check out previous "Concepts in Synthetic Biology:"