What would an RNA molecule say about the origins of life today? We live in a world where cell life is dominated by DNA, but this has not always been the case. The Origins of Life… Again is a speculative look into the future from the perspective of an RNA molecule, when it could determine its own fate. Inspired by an NSF-funded project that uses synthetic biology to study the origins of life, RNA envisions a future based on the past, leading to insights into RNA-based viruses, the limits of fully synthetic genomes, and potential extraterrestrial life leads.

We have synthesized functional genomes of viruses, bacteria, and single-cell organisms, but are we able to replicate life that no longer exists on this planet? Before DNA became essential to cellular life, there was an RNA world in which RNA performed all functions, produced all of the proteins necessary for transmission, replication and evolution, also known as life. RNA can even do the job of proteins … without proteins. Creating an RNA-based organism in the laboratory that replicates itself would shed light on how we transitioned into our DNA-based world.

This is exactly what our RNA figure studies while avoiding her repetitive messenger job within the DNA factory to create her own image. RNA is inspired by the past – a roller coaster world full of possibilities – to build a new future. Can RNA create a completely new form of life according to new rules, and what does that mean for biology?

If successful, it will (hypothetically?) Be the first time in billions of years that cellular life with an RNA chromosome will grace the surface of the earth. Fully synthetic genomes, including man-made genomes that go beyond what could evolve in known life, will allow us to answer questions about the origins of life and expand the rules that limit life.

To animate is to bring to life, and animation is very similar to synthetic biology – both have almost unlimited creative capacities under the guidance of a few rules and certain tools. To do justice to the transformative potential of research, we took a meta-approach and wondered what life itself would think of the origins of life. In creating a figurative universe, it is possible to envision new hypotheses and subvert traditional metaphors within synthetic biology. Metaphors always break down at some point, and the more radical a proposal, the faster they crumble.

The original research project addresses the cultural aspect of science from the start and includes an ethics and rhetoric component to be explored in future animations.

Presented by Johns Hopkins University.