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The Synthetic Surge

Researchers at the University of Nottingham are leading an international team of synthetic biologists in a project that could prove the field's importance, reports Popular Science's Clay Dillow. The group is trying to create a "reprogrammable cell that can act as the in vivo cell equivalent to a computer's operating system," Dillow says. "In other words, they are trying to create cellular software that would let researchers alter living cells without changing their hardware." If this works, he adds, it may provide a way for researchers to program existing cells to perform various tasks, or create brand-new cell forms not found in nature to carry out specific jobs. For this project, the UK-led team is working with E. coli and generating a database of cellular programs that would allow researchers to move faster toward their goals. "Customized living cells could be tailored to clean up environmental disasters, scrub unwanted carbon from the air, pull pollutants from drinking water, attack pathogens inside the human body, protect food sources from agricultural pests — the list is potentially endless," Dillow says.