Now is the time for a synthetic cell flagship Complex networks of proteins, nucleic acids and small molecules sustain the essential processes of energy provision, gene expression and cell division that characterize living cells. Over the past decades, many of the molecules that make up cells have been identified and studied. Yet, despite increased chemical and physical understanding of these biomolecules and their mutual interactions, it remains elusive how they together form a cell that can autonomously grow and replicate. While we are not yet capable to construct such functional biological systems de novo, we can start to assemble and analyze minimal systems that mimic cellular behavior, with the ultimate goal to engineer a synthetic cell. I very much like the idea of constructing a minimal form of life; it is extremely challenging and requires the expertise of scientists from several disciplines but now is the time to bring the right people together. The proposal of Dogterom addresses a problem where Europe can make a difference. It requires long-term funding and a clear vision on which problems to tackle (how, when, where), and a strategy to effectively collaborate across various disciplines of the life, natural and computational sciences and the humanities; the topic will bring ethical and philosophical issues on “what is life”. The construction of a synthetic cell will give unprecedented insight in the “laws of life”, and, ultimately, it will allow us to engineer different forms of life to address the Grand Challenges of Europe.
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