‘Artificial life’ breakthrough announced by scientists

'Artificial Life' Breakthrough Announced by Scientists

Scientists in the US have succeeded in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA.  The researchers constructed a bacterium's "genetic software" and transplanted it into a host cell.  The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species "dictated" by the synthetic DNA.  The advance, published in Science, has been hailed as a scientific landmark, but critics say there are dangers posed by synthetic organisms.

Some also suggest that the potential benefits of the technology have been over-stated.  But the researchers hope eventually to design bacterial cells that will produce medicines and fuels and even absorb greenhouse gases.  The team was led by Dr Craig Venter of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California.

Craig Venter defends the synthetic living cell.  He and his colleagues had previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another.

Now, the scientists have put both methods together, to create what they call a "synthetic cell", although only its genome is truly synthetic.  Dr Venter likened the advance to making new software for the cell.

The researchers copied an existing bacterial genome. They sequenced its genetic code and then used "synthesis machines" to chemically construct a copy.


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