Jan-Willem Veening


We will gain incredible new biological insights by attempting to build a living cell from scratch. To accomplish this, we will need biologists, engineers, chemists and physicists to work together. From a molecular geneticist point of view, this is an extremely exciting project as it will provide us with the exact function of each essential gene, something that is unprecedented. For instance, in the project of Craig Venter, a minimal bacterial cell was constructed but the functions of 149 genes remain a complete mystery (Hutchinson et al., 2016 Science). The flagship project “Building a Synthetic Cell” will not only provide us clues into the origins of life, designer cells might become a real-world possibility allowing us to precisely produce novel or otherwise hard to obtain pharmaceuticals and enzymes. It can even be envisaged that such cells can be programmed to address other grant challenges such as water pollution, food supplements, vaccines, etc. In total, I fully support this Flagship and believe it is a unique opportunity for the excellent researchers in Europe that work at the interface of synthetic biology, cell biology and genetics to come together.