C. S. Henry, R. Overbeek, and R. L. Stevens, "Building the Blueprint of Life," Preprint ANL/MCS-P1772-0610, June 2010. [pdf]
With recent breakthroughs in experimental microbiology making it possible to synthesize and implant an entire genome to create a living cell, the challenge of constructing a working blueprint for the first truly minimal synthetic organism is more important than ever. Here we review the significant progress made in the design and creation of a minimal organism. We discuss how comparative genomes, gene essentiality data, naturally small genomes, and metabolic modelling are all being applied to produce a catalogue of the biological functions essential for life. We compare the minimal gene sets from three published sources with functions identified in 13 existing gene essentiality datasets. We examine how genome-scale metabolic models have been applied to design a minimal metabolism for growth in simple and complex media. Additionally, we survey the progress of efforts to construct a minimal organism, either through implementation of combinatorial deletions in B. subtilis and E. coli or through the synthesis and implantation of synthetic genomes.