Le mystère non élucidé des composants de base de la vie

GARRISON, NEW YORK – Imaginez un instant que vous tombiez par hasard sur un trésor de dispositifs merveilleux laissés par une civilisation ancienne. Ces instruments mystérieux varient considérablement en taille et en complexité, mais ils partagent tous quelques capacités merveilleuses.

Pour comprendre leur fonctionnement, il semble logique de commencer par le dispositif le plus simple et le plus petit, puis de systématiquement détailler les pièces jusqu'à ce qu'il cesse de fonctionner. Tout ce qui n'est pas essentiel aura en fin de compte disparu : seuls les composants nécessaires pour accomplir ses fonctions de base seront présents. Et une fois que vous aurez compris la fonction de chacune de ces pièces, vous aurez alors votre réponse.

Voilà à peu de choses près le périple que le biotechnologue américain J. Craig Venter et ses collègues ont entrepris depuis les vingt dernières années. La seule différence étant que leurs dispositifs merveilleux ne sont pas des vestiges archéologiques, mais des organismes vivants. Et que les pièces qu'ils essaient de comprendre sont les gènes que nous partageons avec toutes les autres formes de vie reproductives autonomes.

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