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Synthetic Genome: TL;DR

If you already understand what's happening with the Venter Institute synthetic genome announcement, and just want to see my response, here's the money quote from the end of the previous post:

One suggestion that we know is possible, because a variation appeared in the Venter announcement: all synthetic genomes should be signed. According to Wired:

“They rebuilt a natural sequence and they put in some poetry,” said University of California at San Francisco synthetic biologist Chris Voigt. “They recreated some quotes in the genome sequence as watermarks.”

What Voigt refers to as a "watermark" should instead be thought of as a "DNA signature." We should require that all synthetic genomes include something like this, unique sequences following a designated pattern, identifying the organization behind the genome, the lab responsible, the date, and any other useful bits of information. Multiple copies should appear throughout the synthetic genome, so it doesn't get mutated away.

That way, if something unexpected happens, we know whom to talk to.


This seems as if it would be very difficult to enforce.

I wonder if synthetic biologists could crib from Deinococcus radiodurans to decrease the likelihood that their creations will mutate? I like Rudy Rucker’s point that the creations of synthetic biology are unlikely to be able to compete with organisms used to the world outside the lab, but a reduced mutation rate might be good for quality control and safety...

This assumes the watermark is not bioactive :)

"Hmm, looks like the goo got some sun, lost a few telomeres, and all of a sudden, everyone in a community who has purchased Oil-B-Gone Bioslick Bayscrubber has dropped off the internet... Yep, that's our signature - who knew it resembled Ebola Necrosis Factor V so closely? Our bad!"

Since the people who would do this kind of thing are more likely to be free-thinking boundary pushers, I'd use reverse psychology: It is expressly forbidden to place any sort of identifying watermark or "tag" into a genomic sequence.

This will assure 100% compliance.

Does anyone know what the quotes they put in there as an easter-egg / watermark are ? ( Fun trivia question ) ~

Seems like this would be easy. The coding density of DNA is very high, and the info to be transmitted relatively trivial. Good idea!

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