A Great Advance in Synthetic Biology: A Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome
Big, big news in synthetic biology. Today, the J. Craig Venter Institute released a paper in Science describing the Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome (PDF). Although the recipient Mycoplasma capricolum cell was not completely synthetic, the implanted genome of the Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium was. With such, the advance does indicate that a cell can multiply based on a synthetic genome, which is one step closer to the ultimate goal of creating life from a set of completely inanimate building blocks. As described in the abstract (link above) of what will likely become one of the most significant papers in the history of biochemistry:
We report the design, synthesis, and assembly of the 1.08-Mbp Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cell to create new Mycoplasma mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including “watermark” sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication.
This research is highly controversial, being steeped in ethical issues, and with such it is receiving a wealth of commentaries: The Venter Institute, Science, BBC News, SciAm, NYT, NPR, WSJ, New Scientist, The Guardian
Some additional documents from the J. Craig Venter Institute of significant interest:
Frequently Asked Questions
Fact Sheet: Ethical and Societal Implications/Policy Discussions about Synthetic Genomics Research (PDF)
Craig Venter on Channel 4: