Before defining a virtual cell, or virtual life, the question is: What is life?
Increasingly, molecular biologist assume that a living organism consists of information–DNA, RNA, protein, as well as all the enzyme fluxes, ion fluxes, and regulatory connections that make things happen. If life consists of information, then a “virtual life form” could be made, an informational mirror of life encoded in computer bytes. Just as a book that exists in paper and glue can also exist as an eBook.
A large caveat here–even for the tiny bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, I remain highly skeptical that all life-essential aspects of this organism have been “recreated” in the virtual form. We’re just beginning to learn about bacterial epigenetics for instance. And what about cell polar aging?
Setting those concerns aside: Would eLife be the equivalent of an organic life form, just like eBook of The Highest Frontier is equivalent to the paper form?
Would an eOrganism have feelings and aspirations, just like the organic original?