Doing Bioinformation Differently: a Two-Biopolymer Synthetic Life Form without Encoding or Instruction, with Bidirectional Information Flow
TWCF Number
Project Duration
September 1 / 2014
- August 31 / 2017
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded
Grant DOI*

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Steven Albert Benner
Institution Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Inc.

This project seeks to address questions about the relationship between information and its embodiment in biology. Biological information can be constructively explored only after it is made real. Thus, this project will be driven by a research paradigm called "synthesis". Synthesis sets a challenge that, in its pursuit, forces scientists across uncharted territory, where they must ask and answer unscripted questions. When the underlying theory fails, the synthesis fails in a way that cannot be ignored. Thus, synthesis drives discovery and paradigm change in ways that analysis cannot.

We will synthesize a two-biopolymer system that can direct its own replication, catalyze metabolic steps, and adapt by evolution. However, it will manage information differently from Earth's life, which uses three informational biopolymers (DNA, RNA, protein). The two biopolymers in our "life-like" system will have a templator-templatee relationship, without the algorithmic instructions in known biology. The symmetry of the relationship will allow information to flow both bottom-up and top-down.This project should have enduring technological impact, as our two-biopolymer life-like system will deliver molecules with useful functions. However, it will also have enduring scientific impact. "Central dogma" holds that the three–biopolymer system is the only way to manage biological information. Indeed, the TWCF solicitation itself suggested that biological information was distinguishable from non-biological information because of its "encoding" and "instructional" features. A delivered working counterexample will dislodge this anthropocentricity, permitting models for biological information free from the blinders of conventionality.

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