Friday, May 21, 2010

Scientists Create Synthetic Organism

Via -

Heralding a potential new era in biology, scientists for the first time have created a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions, researchers at the private J. Craig Venter Institute announced Thursday.

"We call it the first synthetic cell," said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. "These are very much real cells."

Created at a cost of $40 million, this experimental one-cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.

The development, documented in the peer-reviewed journal Science, may stir anew nagging questions of ethics, law and public safety about artificial life that biomedical experts have been debating for more than a decade.

"This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature," said molecular biologist Richard Ebright at Rutgers University, who wasn't involved in the project. "For the first time, someone has generated an entire artificial cell with predetermined properties."

David Magnus, director of the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, said, "It has the potential to transform genetic engineering. The research is going to explode."


The new cell, a bacterium, was conceived solely as a demonstration project. But several biologists said they believed that the laboratory technique used to birth it would soon be applied to other strains of bacteria with commercial potential.

"I think this quickly will be applied to all the most important industrial bacteria," said biologist Christopher Voigt at the University of California, San Francisco, who is developing microbes that help make gasoline.

Several companies are already seeking to take advantage of the new field, called synthetic biology, which combines chemistry, computer science, molecular biology, genetics and cell biology to breed industrial life forms that can secrete fuels, vaccines or other commercial products.

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