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A Cell-Free Production

With new tools, researchers hope to bypass the cell for their bioengineering projects, the Economist writes. By going cell-free, it adds that no biological energy would have to be spent on the business of running a cell and that it could be more easily translated into mass production.

For instance, Synvitrobio, founded by Zachary Sun and Richard Murray from Caltech and Harvard University's George Church is using a cell-free approach to determine whether certain DNA sequences and their resulting proteins might be worth investigating as antibiotic drugs, according to the Economist. Currently, though, it notes that if the firm uncovers a promising molecule, it passes it on to another company to grow it up in cells in fermentation tanks, as it's expensive just yet to mass produce without them.

Still, the Economist notes that companies like Sutro Biopharma are pursing cell-free systems to produce drugs, though it is developing a cancer drug that can be priced higher.

"Whether cell-free biotechnology will be able to displace fermentation by genetically modified organisms as a routine way of making chemicals remains to be seen," the Economist says, adding that "the idea of stripping molecular biology down to its bare essentials has an efficiency about it which suggests that, for some applications at least, the utility of the biological cell may have run its course."