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Biotech Science

US Scientist Creates Artificial Life 253

Posted by Zonk
from the hope-he-did-a-good-dr.-frankenstein-moment dept.
Joshocar writes "The sometimes-controversial US scientist Craig Venter has announced that he has created artificial life. Venter stated that it is 'a very important philosophical step in the history of our species ... We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.' In the lab, Venter was able to construct and write genetic code from laboratory chemicals. The next step is to insert this code into a cell, which has already been demonstrated in the past. This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming and new drugs, but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."
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US Scientist Creates Artificial Life

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  • not quite .... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kristoph (242780) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:53PM (#20880855)
    1) He has not announced this. He is expected to annouce it. It's not actually been done yet, according to the article, although Venter is '100% confident'.

    2) It was not him but his team.

    3) His team has not actually created the life form in question, it's just a stripped down copy of an existing life form.

    4) His team has only made a copy of the chromosome, the other parts of cellular machinary come from an existing organism.

    So the summary should read ...

    Craig Venter is expected to announce that his team has created an artificial copy of a bacterium chomosome. The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over its machinery, and effectivelly begin living.

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  • by Captain Vittles (1096015) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:02PM (#20880927)
    The summary's use of the term 'genetic code' actually plays down the enormity of what's written about in TFA. We've been able to assemble 'genetic code' for a long time now - designer oligomers are a very useful tool for researchers, especially with regards to techniques like PCR, which requires a primer to really get started. The accomplishment written about in the article is that a chromosome was constructed. This isn't merely a snippet of code, but hundreds of genes (composed of hundreds of thousands of base pairs), arranged appropriately on the necessary protein structures. When the article says it was painstakingly assembled, I don't doubt it. That kind of synthesis is remarkably difficult, time-consuming and prone to error if careful attention isn't given to every detail.

    Also note that this isn't actually synthetic life, just a synthetic genome. The components which translate that genome into a functional organism (i.e. the cell and it's structures) were not created. But this is none the less a great leap forward, and I'm sure the resulting findings and work to come from this will unlock vast possibilities, as well as elucidate some currently unknown processes and problems in molecular biology.

    Speaking of possibilities, let's also try not to get too caught up in the nonsense here. This stuff about combating global warming and building drugs and/or bioweapons is just idle speculation, and could be applied to pretty much any kind of molecular biology research. This is just one step, albeit a big one, towards a possible larger goal.
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:37PM (#20881217)
    Everybody gets hung up on "life" as if it's something so fundamental, but really it's by definition nothing more than a set of characteristics (ability to reproduce, etc, etc).

    Do you consider a virus to be alive? It's a borderline case, but some people at least would say yes.

    The Polio virus has already been synthesized from scratch from raw chemicals - feed chemicals into a machine and get a virus out the other end. No need to sprinkle any magic "life" pixie dust on it.
  • by Ingenium13 (162116) <ingenium AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:45PM (#20881821) Homepage
    While it would technically be considered a different species (though perhaps in the same genus as the parent species), I wouldn't consider it artificial life. All they did was repeatedly remove genes and see if the organism was viable. They still have no idea how most of the genes and regulation actually work. Simply modifying an organism doesn't constitute artificial life unless you consider dog breeds or other things we've created by breeding. By the same notion, it's not considered artificial life when a new custom chromosome (called a plasmid) is inserted into a bacteria or eukaryotic cell. It's done all the time and has been since the 80s. All they did was get rid of "extraneous" genes that they don't deem necessary. They're trying to make a designer organism to synthesize/produce compounds. This is one step in achieving that, though it was arguably unnecessary. The hard part is creating genes/proteins to make it do what you actually want. This involves creating a new biochemical pathway (or modifying an existing one), probably creating new enzymes to recognize your intermediates, designing ER and golgi receptors to recognize their finished product and target it for excretion from the cell, creating proper regulation of this pathway, etc, etc. As you can see, it's very complicated. No one has successfully created their own enzyme or protein yet, let alone an entire biochemical pathway of them.
  • MRS GREN (Score:3, Informative)

    by GoddessOfDeath (887416) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @04:33PM (#20882159)
    Anyone else remember sitting in high school bio and learning about MRS GREN (Movement; Respiration; Sensitivity; Growth; Reproduction; Excretion; Nutrition)? By this definition of life, a virus would not be considered.
  • Re:Hello... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:36PM (#20883513)
    You forgot uracil.

    "A fifth pyrimidine base, called uracil (U), usually takes the place of thymine in RNA and differs from thymine by lacking a methyl group on its ring. Uracil is not usually found in DNA, occurring only as a breakdown product of cytosine, but a very rare exception to this rule is a bacterial virus called PBS1 that contains uracil in its DNA." Wikipedia

    And we are talking bacteria here.

  • by arminw (717974) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:15PM (#20883791)
    ....The Polio virus has already been synthesized from scratch from raw chemicals......

    That is pure, unadulterated BS, a bald faced lie. NOBODY has ever made even a virus from all non-living components. They have taken chemicals that originated from life and combined these to make other chemicals which some have called life. To truly make life, ALL parts thereof MUST come from chemicals that were never produced by anything that was previously alive.

    The definition of life is not clear cut. At minimum to be called alive, an organism must be able to reproduce itself and at some level at least, be self-repairing if damaged. Viruses do meet these two specs.

    Nobody has ever demonstrated life coming from non-life.
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @10:11PM (#20884437)
    Sorry to break your bubble...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2122619.stm [bbc.co.uk]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @11:24PM (#20884773)
    "To construct the virus, the researchers say they followed a recipe they downloaded from the internet and used gene sequences from a mail-order supplier."

    They did not create the virus from "scratch" (non-biological sources). They used provided gene sequences. These gene sequences were almost certainly obtained from other viruses.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.

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