Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next
Scientists have built the first synthetic genome by stringing together 147 pages of letters representing the building blocks of DNA.
The researchers used yeast to stitch together four long strands of DNA into the genome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium. They said it’s more than an order of magnitude longer than any previous synthetic DNA creation. Leading synthetic biologists said with the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science, the first synthetic life could be just months away — if it hasn’t been created already.
“We consider this the second in our three-step process to create the first synthetic organism,” said J. Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute where scientists performed the study, on Thursday during a teleconference. “What remains now that we have this complete synthetic chromosome … is to boot this up in a cell.”
With the new ability to sequence a genome, scientists can begin to custom-design organisms, essentially creating biological robots that can produce from scratch chemicals humans can use. Biofuels like ethanol, for example.
“The J. Craig Venter Institute will be able to take a file stored on a computer and using synthetic chemistry, turn that information into life,” said Chris Voigt, a University of California at San Francisco synthetic biologist. “I would be shocked if it doesn’t come out in six months. I think they’ve done it.”
The technique is basically a reverse of the Human Genome Project, which translated DNA into the letters A, C, T and G, which represent the body’s building blocks: the nucleotides adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. Synthetic biologists’ ambitious goal is to arrange those letters to create never-before-seen organisms that will do their bidding.
The first phase of Venter’s three-step process, which he published last year, involved transplanting and “booting up” the genome of one species of bacterium into another. The remaining step is to combine the first two steps, then insert the new synthetic genome into a standard bacterium. Scientists said they expect the announcement of man-made life this year.
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