Oscillator

i-f3d432f032331f35443c50ce5e89e570-synthgenomx-large-thumb-250x259-49452.jpgThe J. Craig Venter Institute has just announced the creation of the first bacterial cell controlled by a genome that is entirely chemically synthesized (PDF). The group has been working towards this goal for several years now, first working out how to synthesize and assemble such large pieces of DNA and how to transplant a genome from one organism to another. This result puts it all together, a synthetic version of the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides and transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum cell. This synthetic cell is almost identical to a natural M. mycoides, but also includes a “watermark” sequence in the genome, identifying it as synthetic and the work of the Venter Institute.

This is certain to be a huge story, and I’ll probably write more in-depth on it later but I just wanted to share the exciting news right away. For now, I want to just emphasize that this is a huge and awesome technical achievement, although it’s still far from what I would call “synthetic life.” What do you think about the ability to synthesize genomes? Where do you think this is going to lead in five years, ten years, fifty years?

Links: JCVI, Science, NYT, Carl Zimmer, NPR, New Scientist, WSJ, The Guardian

Comments

  1. #1 Ray Ingles
    May 20, 2010

    Synthesizing genomes for viruses has a lot of potential. Being able to synthesize the genome of a full cell or beyond?

    Chemistry’s gonna get a major push. Creating bacteria that can manufacture specific chemicals has been done, but being able to place the genes exactly where you want has to be good for efficiency.

    Biology’s going to make major strides when we can experiment with entire artificial genomes. Testing more complex hypotheses will be possible.

    As to where it’ll be in fifty years… impossible to know for now.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 20, 2010

    Congrats on a well timed blog!

    Well, I’m not a (synthetic) biologist. But my naive view of life is different than a cluster of atoms assembled one by one, as the post seems to suggest is the implicit definition.

    The cell machinery has been inherited from the first cell on down. But it, as the genome, has been modified (through the genome). As Venter’s et al new genome metabolize and divide, which they do and better than the original in fact, they eventually replace the old machinery.

    Defining evolution as Larry Moran does, “a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations”, we can explicitly understand life as the process of evolution as observed in actual biological populations. In this view virus is life, and these cells will become fully “synthetic life” over time, as the new genome proteins replace the old metabolism. Actually it is a new man made mode of evolution by this definition, so one could possibly defend that it is life “as is”.

    The process view is, besides its relationship to physics et cetera, the most natural and inclusive view. We will likely never be able to assemble a cell from pieces only any more than we can build a computer from pieces only. Both of them will have to be booted up with their respective software, for very much the analogous reason – it is too difficult to get the initial state correct in hardware assembly. Yet we say that the computer is constructed (synthetic), so we should do the same elsewhere.

    It is mostly futile to predict where new technology will take us. But on the predictive horizon is the minimal genome that Venter et al assembled and “only” awaited confirmation on the method. The minimal genome and its relatives will inform us somewhat on the requirements for the first modern cell population and how it came to be. I can’t wait!

  3. #3 Psi Wavefunction
    May 20, 2010

    Meh, as alluded to above, the cell was already there (and has been for the past 3.2-3.5 billion years), and genome != organism, contrary to a disturbingly common assumption. Cytoplasmic and membrane inheritance also plays a massive role in the biology and evolution of an organism, and just like a genome is prone to honing and bloating by selection and drift and mutational biases. It’s just much harder to work with, hence why I see such genomic advances, while admittedly kind of cool, still rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The cell biology still remains the much bigger and more complicated question to adress, and the ‘genomics era’ is only the beginning.

    After all, all life is 3.2-3.5 billion years old, continuously, presumably formed only once. To form life from scratch a second time will take WAY more than just shoving a genome somewhere. I think anyone who’s dealt with actual organisms would probably tend to be more cynical and skeptical about the whole endeavour ;-)

    -Psi-

  4. #4 harold lee
    May 21, 2010

    From Darwin to Watson/Crick, and now. I just hope none of the technology involved is patent protected.

  5. #5 knowledge is power
    May 23, 2010

    The article should have been titled as Synthia & Apollo and their Synthetic Life.

    Synthetic/Synthia/Cynthia

    http://www.urbandictionary.com­/define.php?term=Synthia

    Cynthia or “Synthia” was originally an epithet of the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis, who was sometimes called “Cynthia” because, according to legend, the goddess was born on Mount Cynthus. Known also as a master of animals. Parallel Greek goddess to Roman goddess Diana. Daughter of Leto and twin sister of Apollo.

    Synthia & Apollyon are one in the same… The hermaphrodite beast of the book of Revelations as seen as Apollyon and the ‘scarlet whore’ named as Hel…

    All you have to do is study the Apollo/Athena, whom is Synthia/Artemis, angle in every story/issue/matter, and you will find the source of the evil. Because the beast named as Apollo/Athena is at the core of EVERY evil ever seen down through ALL the eons and ages… That evil can be seen when the connected names are completed… They touch every evil ever known…

  6. #6 surya
    August 6, 2010

    Synthesizing genomes for viruses has a lot of potential. Being able to synthesize the genome of a full cell or beyond?

    Chemistry’s gonna get a major push. Creating bacteria that can manufacture specific chemicals has been done, but being able to place the genes exactly where you want has to be good for efficiency.

    Biology’s going to make major strides when we can experiment with entire artificial genomes. Testing more complex hypotheses will be possible.

    As to where it’ll be in fifty years… impossible to know for now.

    Posted by: Ray Ingles | May 20, 2010 3:59 PM
    4
    From Darwin to Watson/Crick, and now. I just hope none of the technology involved is patent protected.

    Posted by: harold lee | May 21, 2010 1:00 AM

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