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Just Make It

Gene synthesis is poised to make a splash in the production of industrial chemicals and in the treatment of medical disorders, the New York Times writes.

It adds that gene synthesis has hinted at its potential through the COVID-19 pandemic, as scientists were able to quickly synthesize genetic material encoding the SARS-COV-2 spike protein to enable vaccine development.

Now, the Times says, other applications have captured increased interest. It adds for, instance, that Gingko Bioworks has identified genes linked to the scent of a rose or that may represent a new antimicrobial and then turn to firms like Twist Bioscience to synthesize those genes that they then insert into a host cell to produce the encoded proteins.

Tom Keating from Gingko tells the Times that currently scientists are "just taking what nature has already invented, copying it, maybe optimizing it."

But the next step is to go beyond what nature has dreamed up. "If you can draw a molecule on a piece of paper, can we engineer an organism to produce that molecule, even if it's something that nature has never seen before? We're nowhere near that — but, you know, baby steps," he adds.

The Scan

Looking for Omicron

NPR reports that SARS-CoV-2 testing in the US has gotten better but also that some experts say more needs to be done to better track the Omicron variant.

Holmes Alleges Abuse

The Associated Press reports that Theranos' Elizabeth Holmes has testified at her wire fraud trial that her business and romantic partner abused her.

Bit More Diverse, But More to Do

While Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to participate in cancer clinical trials than previously, they are still underrepresented, according to US News & World Report.

PNAS Papers on Yeast Gene Silencing, Zika Virus Inhibition, Immunoglobulin Hypermutation

In PNAS this week: gene silencing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, possible neuroprotective role for SHFL in a mouse model of Zika virus infection, and more.