First Synthetic Cell Created

Synthetic Cells

Blue colonies indicate a successfully transplanted genome.

Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they’ve created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA.

Here is the video announcement from Washington D.C.:

For the first time, to a degree scientists have created life. Craig Venter’s team at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California, have made a bacterial genome from smaller DNA subunits, and then transplanted the whole string into another cell. So what exactly is the science behind this, and what are its broader applications to this discovery?

The cell was created by stitching together the genome of a pathogen called Mycoplasma mycoides from smaller pieces of DNA synthesised in the lab, and inserting the genome into the empty cytoplasm of a related bacterium. The transplanted gene booted up in its host cell, and then divided over and over to make billions of M. mycoides cells.

Venter and his team added a bunch of representative markers into their synthesised genome. All of them were found in the synthetic cell when it was sequenced.

These markers do not make any proteins, but they contain the names of 46 scientists on the project and several quotations written out in a secret code. The markers also contain the key to the code.

Venter’s work was just proof of what could be done in the future, future synthetic cells could be used to create drugs, bio-fuels and other useful products. He is expected to join up with with Exxon Mobil to produce biofuels from algae and with Novartis to create vaccines.

But such advances come with uncertainty, Robert Field, professor of Law and Health Management and Policy at Drexel University said: “The ability to create new life forms may be emerging from the world of science fiction; but will everything we create be benign, or is Frankenstein now in the realm of possibility?”

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