First Artificial Life From Man-Made DNA

Entertainment Editor

J. Craig Venter and colleagues have succeeded in implanting a fully synthetic genome into a previously lifeless host cell.  The new life form had a genome of over one million base pairs (for comparison, the human genome is 3.2 billion base pairs long).  The new cell, a Mycoplasma bacteria, grew and reproduced, but did little else.  It’s probably plotting something, like a new NBC series starring Paul Reiser. (Anything but that!)

“This is the first synthetic cell that’s been made,” said Venter. “We call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer.”  Venter and his colleagues created a special code, similar to Morse code, to “write” within the DNA itself. Instead of dots and dashes, they used the sequence of four DNA nucleotides, thymine (T), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and adenine (A), as a code for any letter, number or punctuation mark. Using the code, the team included the names of the study co-authors, a website, and even several philosophical quotes, complete with punctuation. [Discovery]

Anybody else a little disappointed they didn’t use any quotes from 12 Monkeys?  Anyway, they hope to eventually create bacteria that can speed up the production and lower the costs of biofuels, vaccines, and drugs.

It’s important to note, before we all start panicking, that they are serious about containment of anything they create (inserting suicide genes, for example), and Venter explains some of their containment methods around minute nine and a half of the video below.  Let’s just hope no rogue goats break into the lab, because they’re the only medium outside this lab that’s susceptible to the bacterium used, and only if they inject or spray it into themselves.  So make that rogue goats who inject heroin — the worst kind of goats.

Here’s the Skype interview with J. Craig Venter talking about the paper published today in Science.

[Thanks to Ryan for the tip.]

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