A team of scientists have announced in the Journal Science, a bold and innovative step towards creating an artificial life - a living cell powered by manmade DNA. Molecular biologist J. Craig Venter, the primary author of this report described the converted cell as "the first self-replicating species we've had on the planet whose parent is a computer.
While such work can evoke disturbing images of Frankenstein-like man playing God fictions, it also is exciting that it could eventually lead to new fuels, better ways to clean polluted water and faster vaccine production. This team's project paves the way for the ultimate, much harder goal: designing organisms that work differently from the way nature had intended, putting them into various uses. While scientists have moved single genes and even large chunks of DNA from one species to another, the Venter's team at J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD, and San Diego, worked to go further. A few years ago, the researchers transplanted an entire natural genome — the genetic code — of one bacterium into another and watched it take over, turning a goat germ into a cattle germ. Next, the researchers built from scratch another, smaller bacterium's genome, using off-the-shelf laboratory-made DNA fragments.
The researchers picked two species of a Mycoplasma. First, they chemically synthesized the genome of M. mycoides, that goat germ, which with 1.1 million "letters" of DNA was twice as large as the germ genome they'd previously built. Then they transplanted it into a living cell from a different Mycoplasma species, albeit a fairly close cousin. At first, nothing happened. The team scrambled to find out why, creating a genetic version of a computer proofreading program to spell-check the DNA fragments they'd pieced together. They found that a typo in the genetic code was rendering the manmade DNA inactive, delaying the project three months to find and restore that bit.
The recipient cell started out with synthetic DNA and its original cytoplasm, but the new genome "booted up" that cell to start producing only proteins that normally would be found in the copied goat germ. The researchers had tagged the synthetic DNA to be able to tell it apart, and checked as the modified cell reproduced to confirm that new cells really looked and behaved like M. mycoides.
Although this scientific breakthrough was praised by most of scientific community, some environmental groups warned against unforeseen consequences.
Daniel G. Gibson, John I. Glass, Carole Lartigue, Vladimir N. Noskov, Ray-Yuan Chuang, Mikkel A. Algire, Gwynedd A. Benders, Michael G. Montague, Li Ma, Monzia M. Moodie, Chuck Merryman, Sanjay Vashee, Radha Krishnakumar, Nacyra Assad-Garcia, Cynthia Andrews-Pfannkoch, Evgeniya A. Denisova, Lei Young, Zhi-Qing Qi, Thomas H. Segall-Shapiro, Christopher H. Calvey, Prashanth P. Parmar, Clyde A. Hutchison, III, Hamilton O. Smith, . Craig Venter, man made DNA, artificial DNA, Science, DNA, synthetic DNA, Mycoplasma, Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome