Synthetic life arrives

By Grant Jacobs 21/05/2010 4

Breaking news hurtling around the internet is that Craig Venter’s team, of genome sequencing fame,* has published in Science their report of creating a bacterial cell with a synthetic genome. The research paper is available for free (PDF file) via the Science abstract (web page).

Nature has a short article giving responses from authors who they describe as ’eight synthetic-biology experts’,** also available for free (PDF file). I would encourage people to read this opinion article. They’re interestingly diverse takes on this news.

The research paper itself is quite dry, being almost entirely a description of the methodology used in the construction of the synthetic genome and it incorporation into the host cell.

I would love to have time to say something meaningful on this of my own, but just as this news is hurtling around the internet, so is my day and I must go off and hurtle along with it.


* More than simple fame, as if fame were ever only simple; he is a controversial figure to some.

** My perception is that many of these authors have related expertise that can be applied to synthetic biology, rather than being synthetic biology experts per se.

Other articles on Code for life:

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

A plastic ocean

Friday picture: molecular modelling of the cytoplasm

The inheritance of face recognition (or should you blame your parents if you can’t recognise faces?)

4 Responses to “Synthetic life arrives”

  • I do get the impression that this was put out in a rather hurried manner. There does appear to be a spelling mistake in the third to last paragraph with “The ability tp produce synthetic cells”, something I have never seen before in a ‘Science’ paper.

    In terms of the research, I have always thought this is a truly powerful technology. I still hold their February 2008 paper “Complete chemical synthesis, assembly, and cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium genome” to be more significant. I’m struggling to see the difference between the two as being revolutionary.

    This technique helped inspire me at the time to build a method for encrypting text and data into DNA, starting with On the Origin of Species. By being able to synthesis and more importantly construct large sequences of DNA is a huge leap forward for molecular biology.

  • It is a technical milestone in many respects, rather than advancing new concepts, but then technical milestones are the nature of getting from having the potential to do something to actually doing it.

    I guess cynics would say that if it weren’t the first synthetic genome in a bacterium, it wouldn’t be in Science, but then it is, so it is!

    The research paper is an advance copy on-line (a Science Express release); I’d like to think that the typo will be picked up before the print edition runs!

    In my hurry I missed Science’s news coverage:

    Science-online is also fielding reader questions:

    I should also add that while it is Venter’s “team”, according to Science’s news coverage, the project leader is the first author, Daniel Gibson.

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