As I scanned the health page of The New York Times Web site this morning, I found this:
“Taking a significant step toward the creation of synthetic forms of life, researchers reported Thursday that they had manufactured the entire genome of a bacterium by stitching together its chemical components. “
Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have constructed viruses, but bacteria are larger and much more complex. According to the story, the genome of the bacterium is 10 times longer than the longest piece of DNA previously synthesized.
“The feat is a watershed for the emerging field called synthetic biology, which involves the design of organisms to perform particular tasks, like making biofuels. Synthetic biologists envision being able to design an organism on a computer, press the ‘print’ button to have the necessary DNA made and then put that DNA into a cell to produce a custom-made creature,” the newspaper reported.
The work was published Thursday online in the journal Science.
However, the newspaper reported, synthetic biology could be used to make pathogens, or scientists’ errors could have unintended effects.
Researchers largely copied the genetic sequence of bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium.
“Moreover, Dr. Venter’s team, led by a Nobel laureate, Hamilton O. Smith, has yet to accomplish the next — and biggest — step. That would be to insert the synthetic chromosome into a living microbe and have it ‘boot up’ and take control of the organism’s functions,” the newspaper reported.
The team ordered 101 gene sequences from biotech companies companies, the newspaper reported. It joined them into bigger pieces. Scientists then inserted four large pieces into yeast, “which hooked them together using a natural gene repair mechanism.”
At some point, the newspaper reported, scientists will be able to synthesize an organism from scratch more cheaply and easily than splicing genes.
Venter is known for sequencing the human genome.
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer