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Biotech Science

Scientists Build Possibly The First Man-Made Genome 264

Posted by Zonk
from the quite-a-crafting-combine dept.
hackingbear writes "Wired is reporting that researchers have created the longest synthetic genome to date by threading together four long strands of DNA. 'Leading synthetic biologists said with the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science, the first synthetic life could be just months away — if it hasn't been created already. [...] The ability to synthesize longer DNA strands for less money parallels the history of genetic sequencing, where the price of sequencing a human genome has dropped from hundreds of millions of dollars to about $10,000. Just a few years ago, synthesizing a piece of DNA with 5,000 rungs in its helix, known as base-pairs, was impossible. Venter's new synthetic genome is 582,000 base-pairs.' As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it."
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Scientists Build Possibly The First Man-Made Genome

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  • by nebrshugyo (1216152) * on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:43PM (#22173610) Journal
    If Venter and company royally screw-up, and create some bug that kills us all, or turns the biosphere to a pile of gray goo, nobody's going to make any money off of dandy, new, commoditized designer life forms. Where do I complain?
    • by Fallingcow (213461) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:46PM (#22173670) Homepage
      I'd be more worried about the tech becoming common enough and easy enough to use that anyone with $100,000 and some spare time can make a super-virus, or a bacterium that is extremely hardy and destroys wheat or rice crops, or any number of other nasty things.
      • Ewww! (Score:5, Funny)

        by monkeyboythom (796957) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:53PM (#22173764)

        As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it.

        As a regular guy, I am NOT excited by the thought of thousands of fat, greasy programmers drooling over a test tube and a well worn copy of "Weird Science."

        As my friend Han was so fond of saying, "I've got a bad feeling about this."

        • by Adambomb (118938)
          Yeah, when they all forget to attach the doll it'd kinda ruin the whole nuclear non-proliferation bent pretty badly.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jollyreaper (513215)

          As a regular guy, I am NOT excited by the thought of thousands of fat, greasy programmers drooling over a test tube and a well worn copy of "Weird Science."

          As my friend Han was so fond of saying, "I've got a bad feeling about this."
          Tell the programmer to keep his hands to himself.
        • by geekoid (135745)
          "As a regular guy, I am NOT excited by the thought of thousands of fat, greasy programmers"

          talk about redundant!
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by namgge (777284)

          As a regular guy, I am NOT excited by the thought of thousands of fat, greasy programmers drooling over a test tube and a well worn copy of "Weird Science."

          As a programmer, I can assure you that the first code implemented this platform that says "Hello World!" is going to excite you witless.

          Namgge

      • by QuantumG (50515)
        Ahhh, I see, you're one of those people who hears the term "Super-empowered Individual" and thinks of it as a bad thing. Whereas I'm kinda of the opinion that the problem with our society is the dis-empowerment of the individual.

        Guess you think concealed-carry licenses are a bad idea too.

        • by spun (1352)
          I guess you think every individual on the planet should have nuclear weapons? I mean, that would be "super-empowered individuals," right?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by QuantumG (50515)
            Well, the thing about nukes is that you need a good delivery device.. oh, and they're pretty conspicuous, so you'd need a secret silo too. That's, umm, really a lot of capital investment. That said, if more concerned citizens had access to "the button" then we'd hardly have any threat of military coup would we?

            • by pnewhook (788591) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:07PM (#22174014)

              That said, if more concerned citizens had access to "the button" then we'd hardly have any threat of military coup would we?

              Of course not because we'd all be dead by now.

              • by Goblez (928516)
                Fear of Death is not an acceptable reason to give up your rights/freedom. At least it wasn't 300+ years ago. Ahh, the cost of complacency and comfort.
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by spun (1352)
              The problem isn't concerned citizens, it's sociopaths and those brainwashed by sociopaths. You know, there are some people who hate humanity enough to wipe us all off the map if they could easily create a superbug to do it. You okay with that possibility? Now, the fact is, even if access to this tech were somehow restricted, criminals and crazies would still find a way to get it. How long before we see a virus tailored to wipe out, say, Jews? This is going to happen, we'd better start thinking of ways to de
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by RobFlynn (127703)
                Watch this video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6950604815683841321&hl=en [google.com]

                It's about an hour long. It's both intriguing and a little scary at the same time. It gives a good example of just how far things have come and where they're potentially headed.

                The benefits and cons are both obvious.
              • by badasscat (563442)
                I agree, restricting access isn't the answer, but I don't know what is.

                Restricting access may not be the *only* answer, but it is most assuredly *one* of them.

                Whether or not you think it actually works (and it's a myth that access restrictions always don't work - plenty of things are restricted that you really can't get, like, say, an MX missile), that's no reason not to do it. There are things you do because they should be done, regardless of how effective they are.

                There may be *other* things that can be
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by bodan (619290)
              Actually, the nasty thing about nukes is that you don't need a very good delivery device. It doesn't matter that much where one goes off. Pretty much anywhere in an inhabited or industrialized place one could do a big mess. If anyone could have one, that's a lot of potential messes.

              So a car or a backpack could be very good delivery devices for small enough nukes. You don't even need to be suicidal, you can just leave one somewhere. And suicidal people are not that rare; they weren't even before the current
              • by QuantumG (50515)
                You've been tricked by Hollywood and CIA bogeymen. A nuke exploded at ground level is about as effective as a big shitload of tnt exploded at ground level.. i.e., not very.
        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          by pnewhook (788591)

          Guess you think concealed-carry licenses are a bad idea too.

          I do. I see nothing wrong with protection of life and property, but you don't need a concealed gun to do that.

          Basically they should outlaw any gun under five feet long. And bullets should be ridiculously priced, like $10k or something (although every 5ft or longer gun would come with one free bullet). That keeps the right for self defence but gets rid of the morons shooting at each other for fun.

          • by FooAtWFU (699187)

            Basically they should outlaw any gun under five feet long. And bullets should be ridiculously priced, like $10k or something (although every 5ft or longer gun would come with one free bullet). That keeps the right for self defence but gets rid of the morons shooting at each other for fun.

            What do I do if I'm attacked by a flock of grizzly b'ars in the mountains, then?
          • I do. I see nothing wrong with protection of life and property, but you don't need a concealed gun to do that.

            Well, you don't if open carry is allowed, I guess. There are, of course, many examples of people who actually have protected life and property with a concealed gun.

            Basically they should outlaw any gun under five feet long. And bullets should be ridiculously priced, like $10k or something (although every 5ft or longer gun would come with one free bullet). That keeps the right for self defence
          • Basically they should outlaw any gun under five feet long. And bullets should be ridiculously priced, like $10k or something (although every 5ft or longer gun would come with one free bullet). That keeps the right for self defence but gets rid of the morons shooting at each other for fun.

            And all the criminals would carry sawed off weapons and go around mugging people for their ammo. Forget the wallet, the bullets are worth way more. It's these sort of poorly thought out ideas that cause problems. You have to consider all implications of decisions you make. Bear in mind that no matter what you decide to do, there will be people out there looking to see how they can exploit it to their ends, including getting around restrictions, and more importantly, making a profit off said restrictions. I

      • That will be ages away. I doubt we'll be able to make a completely new organism which can live and reproduce for some time.
    • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:53PM (#22173756) Homepage Journal
      If 'grey goo' could happen from nanotech or biotech, then bacteria would have done it already.

      So far, all that's happened is some assorted earthtone sludge.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mc moss (1163007)
        That is incorrect. Just b/c natural evolution didn't produce something yet doesn't mean it is not possible. A common fallacy is thinking that whatever species exist today are the pinnacle of evolution. It doesn't work that way. There is always some mutation that can happen that can produce something new.
      • by Cheesey (70139) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @06:43PM (#22175270)
        You forgot about all the other life on Earth.

        We are the grey goo. The plants and the bacteria had a good go at spreading all over Earth, but we spread further and faster than any previous life. The "grey goo scenario" is limited by the assumption that energy is abundant, and indeed energy (food) shortages are all that stops us covering every inch of the world.

        I, for one, welcome my fellow grey goo overlords.
    • by NathanBFH (558218)
      That really is as ridiculous as a statement as a non-computer scientist saying, in the 1940s, "Gee, I'm really kind of scared of this idea of programmable computers. How do I stop them from making them?"
  • But, but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Wylfing (144940) <(brian) (at) (wylfing.net)> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:44PM (#22173634) Homepage Journal

    But Jesus, and the Bible!

    • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:47PM (#22173674) Journal

      But Jesus, and the Bible!
      Yes, don't worry...
      We'll be able to genetically replicate those soon too
      • by geekoid (135745)
        You need a genetic sample...and if you can find a Genetic sample of Christ, that kibnd of throws Chritianity down the crapper.

        Like when they got all excited because someone claimed to find Christs body and I'm like "Dude, that's proof your religion is based on nothing."

        OTOH, these same people thinks Christs birth is the important part.
    • And while we're at it, can artificially created life have a soul? ;-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by KublaiKhan (522918)
        The official position of the Catholic Church, IIRC, is that animals do not have a soul--so no problem there; just define any artificially created lifeforms as non-human animals, and then you'll have no theological problems.

        Not sure about how the other 5/6 of the world's population would think about it, though.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by babblefrog (1013127)
        A monk asked Venter-zenji "Does a synthesized life form have Buddha nature or not?"
        Venter-zenji replied "Mu."
  • Impossible? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:44PM (#22173636) Journal

    Just a few years ago, synthesizing a piece of DNA with 5,000 rungs in its helix, known as base-pairs, was impossible.
    Yet, somehow we've managed to have life on earth...
    • Re:Impossible? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bumby (589283) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:51PM (#22173742)
      unless you believe in "intelligent" design, life on earth wasn't synthesized. At least not by the definition of the word in this domain.
      • by esampson (223745) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:56PM (#22173830) Homepage

        I have my own theory; so many things in this world annoy me that they couldn't have happened by random chance. Instead they are proof of some supreme cosmic being who shaped the world just to piss me off.

        I call my theory Belligerent Design. (with all credit to Lore Sjoberg for that joke).

        • they are proof of some supreme cosmic being who shaped the world just to piss me off

          Whenever I think somebody, anyone, not just supreme cosmic beings, is trying to piss me off, I think: am I really that important? Why, exactly, would anyone make an effort to piss me off? Nah, probably just a coincidence.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by orclevegam (940336)

            Whenever I think somebody, anyone, not just supreme cosmic beings, is trying to piss me off, I think: am I really that important? Why, exactly, would anyone make an effort to piss me off? Nah, probably just a coincidence.
            You're trying to piss me off aren't you?
          • by geekoid (135745)
            Like those egomaniacs that think "My children are deformed, God must be punishing me."
            WTF? you did something so awesome, God himself took an interest in you AND made your children suffer?

            Meh. I'll stick to being an Atheist. God never punishes me, the Devil never tempts me, and I get to do good deeds just because they are good.

            • by Bob-taro (996889)

              Like those egomaniacs that think "My children are deformed, God must be punishing me." WTF? you did something so awesome, God himself took an interest in you AND made your children suffer?

              If, for the sake of argument, you accept the premise of an omnipotent God, he may actually be able to pay attention to each and every one of us, and not just the "most important ones".

              Meh. I'll stick to being an Atheist. God never punishes me, the Devil never tempts me, and I get to do good deeds just because they are good.

              How does an atheist define "good"?

              Regarding the actual article, consider these 2 sayings: "Knowledge is power", "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". I love science, but sometimes the power that is being put into fallible, corruptible human hands really concerns me.

              • by ArsonSmith (13997)
                And sharing is equalizing. Knowledge is only power if you are the only keeper of that knowledge. Power only corrupts if you are the only one with the power.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by amRadioHed (463061)

                How does an atheist define "good"?
                Same way a theist decides which religion is right.
          • by Goldarn (922750) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:51PM (#22174638)

            Whenever I think somebody, anyone, not just supreme cosmic beings, is trying to piss me off, I think: am I really that important?
            I used to wonder about this. Then I realized that, since the cosmic beings/universe/whatever are trying to piss my off, then I am, ipso facto, that important. It did wonders for my self-esteem.

            Still, I can't help but wonder... is the entire universe against me? Or just the part where light has reached since my birth? Don't laugh; it's an important question.
    • by esampson (223745)
      I think the key word in that sentence is 'synthesizing'. They weren't saying it wasn't possible for it to happen. Just that we couldn't do it ourselves. :)
    • We could not synthesize DNA with over 5,000 base pairs until recently. Obviously, natural DNA has more base pairs than this. Yes, you are correct, life exists on earth, and we did not create it. Glad that's sorted out.
    • by eli pabst (948845)

      Yet, somehow we've managed to have life on earth...

      That is largely due to the technique by which we synthesize DNA in the laboratory. It's actually done using a series of chemical reactions rather than by utilizing the specialized enzymes found in cells. It's an extremely artificial process where the DNA strand is physically held on a microscopic bead, and as a result of the chemistry we use, it's actually more convenient to synthesize it backwards which makes it a slow and cumbersome process. In a cell, your natural DNA replication machinery are replic

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:44PM (#22173640) Homepage
    will they use this technology to create a life form who is programmed to create other life forms?

    Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! IT'S A NET!!!*

    *My apologies for this horrendously bad joke
    • The odds are very good that has already happened. Compare the estimated life of the universe to the estimated life of your star system.

  • I mean, imagine the possibilities. The ability to create synthetic, self replicating machines that produce whatever material we could need. Tailor drugs and chemicals by using "Biotechnology".

    Or should I be afraid of the first "programmed virus" that can actually infect human beings?

    I don't know. As usual, it seems to have two sides. What comes out of it is up to us, I guess. In other words, if I believed in God, I'd hope he has mercy with us.
    • Any programmed virus can't really be that much worse then what has already evolved as is. I mean, are they really going to top Ebola or HIV? The real danger to a virus is in the delivery system, without a way to effectively distribute it within a population it's mostly an academic exercise.
  • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:46PM (#22173668) Homepage Journal
    If that can be achieved (much like a Florida geneticist once made THC-producing orange trees) then you'll single-handedly kick the War on Drugs' ass. That would be a worthy cause right there.
    • If that can be achieved (much like a Florida geneticist once made THC-producing orange trees) then you'll single-handedly kick the War on Drugs' ass. That would be a worthy cause right there.
      Considering the carnivorous plant thread earlier, I don't want to know what that tree would be like when it gets the munchies.
  • Wonderful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pnewhook (788591) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:46PM (#22173672)

    As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it.

    Geez. The LAST thing society needs is a bunch of synthesized clones running around with hacked up spaghetti code for genes.

    • Such a thing would be a fitting tribute to the FSM (may his noodly appendage touch all!)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Script Cat (832717)
        How can this be attributed to the Finite State Machine. Typically things like this have massive parallelism.
        Though I donot usually draw a weiner when designing a FSM, its appendaged are pretty noodly.
    • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:54PM (#22173790) Journal

      Geez. The LAST thing society needs is a bunch of synthesized clones running around with hacked up spaghetti code for genes.
      Yes, Comment your genes for god sake!!!
    • by thewiz (24994) *
      Hey, I bet they'd be followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
    • by esampson (223745)

      Kind of brings new meaning to Blue Screen of Death.

      Windows Genome has detected an error in your base pairs and is now shutting down.

    • As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it.
      That definitely gives a new meaning to "virus" and "worm." Oh wait... Don't you botnet me.
  • At last! (Score:3, Funny)

    by erroneus (253617) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:47PM (#22173680) Homepage
    I will have my four-legged chicken! (The drumstick is my favorite part)
  • An omission (Score:4, Insightful)

    by leob (154345) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:48PM (#22173702)
    The article does not say if it's methylated in the right places.
    • Re:An omission (Score:4, Informative)

      by reverseengineer (580922) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @06:21PM (#22175018)
      The parent poses an important question, and as it turns out, Mycoplasma genitalium was a clever choice in that regard: its genome is so streamlined as to lack the machinery to methylate its DNA. In prokaryotes like M. genitalium, methylation is mostly used to distinguish self from non-self DNA, quite useful (restriction enzymes can be used to carve up non-self DNA then), but not strictly necessary; in eukaryotes, it plays a vital role in regulation of gene transcription, so appropriate methylation is very important.

      Analyses of M. genitalium suggest it may have orginally had methylation capabilities, but has lost them over time: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=206970&blobtype=pdf [nih.gov]

      In our analysis, restriction enzyme digestions of M. genitalium genomic DNA, using MspI and HpaII, did not support the fact that CpG methylation currently exists in this genome as evidenced by the identical pattern produced by both restriction enzymes (data not shown). Whether the disparity in CpG dinucleotides in the M. genitalium genome is the result of a now extinct CpG methylase activity or related instead to the codon usage of this organism will require further analysis.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:49PM (#22173708)

    "As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it."
    As a programmer, when I think of the quality of the HTML on most websites, and then read the above sentence, I throw up in my mouth a little.
    • Elitist much? Shortsighted perhaps?

      Things don't start off perfect, or even good. They get there by wading through the mistakes and learning from the garbage you see. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
        Dude. HTML is a completely known entity. There are VALIDATERS for it, and the quality of most HTML is rubbish. An influenza [wikipedia.org] virus has only 10 genes, meaning it doesn't take much "code" to make some really bad bad shit.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          My point isn't to praise in any way the people that aren't performing to that standard. It is the fact that they exist almost as a reminder as to what not to do. Sort of a "without night there is no day" kind of thing.

          You make a good point with the dangers that loom. You should read if you haven't "The Singularity Is Near" by Ray Kurzweil. It has some good ideas as to how to deal with this topic with nanotech and AI.
      • Things don't start off perfect, or even good. They get there by wading through the mistakes and learning from the garbage you see. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

        He's about 5 stages later when things are made by morons using tools that employ canned templates. Then the moron screws with things so that it's designed for crap and just barely works, but if you change anything it collapses.

        You want the genome version of that?

    • by tnk1 (899206)
      New in January 2018! Microsoft's new .Neuron platform...

      Jan 3, 2018 Hot-fix 845-89459086290834 Repairs security issues with .Neuron

      Jan 4, 2018 Hot-fix 845-89459086290835 .Neuron B1RD-FL00 virus recovery tool (chkn-sup 1.0)
      Hot-fix 845-89459086290836 .Neuron EEB0lA virus recovery tool
      Hot-fix 845-89459086290837 .Neuron PNK-I virus recovery tool
  • counted....

    It used to be in the prehistoric computing days, engineers got paid by number of lines cranked out. Now, it looks like gene engineers will bask in that opportunity.

    But, hopefully, they don't crank out shitty code. Or, well REALLY have "The First man-Made Gnome" (which is what I read at first...). This could be a different take on Project Genesis.
  • welcome our new synthetic overlords. (It had to be done.)
  • The final line of the paragraph scares me to death - I haven't met a programmer whom I'd turn loose on a DNA construction. It would be like handing a loaded, fully-automatic weapon, with the safety ground off, to a three-year-old; or asking them to complete a fully distributed ERP system written in assembler.
    Just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD. Perhaps if we constructed a complete corpus of biological effects, and dependencies of all currently known sequences (yeah right, like we're go
  • ... intelligent design, science will be safe from religious ridicule.
  • by Aram Fingal (576822) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:58PM (#22173858)
    In the article, Venter says that they will need something similar to high level programming tools in order to accomplish useful modifications. I think that there is already plenty of evidence that genetic systems have procedural abstraction. In talking about gene activation, Biologists often use the term "ordered cascade" to describe what's happening when one gene activates a few more and those genes, in turn, activate other genes. If you think about it, it's exactly like subroutines of a program. Construction of the bacterial flagellum, for example, starts with the activation of one gene, which activates others, leading to the contribution of about 25 genes. These genes contribute various parts of the flagellum and activation of the cellular machinery to put it together and attach it to the cell wall.
    • will need something similar to high level programming tools in order to accomplish useful modifications. I think that there is already plenty of evidence that genetic systems have procedural abstraction.

      Sounds to me like programming in Prolog.

      For those who don't know... A Prolog program is a set of patterns and actions. When a pattern is "matched" it action occures. The set is unordered. A more modern and more widely used version of this is the language "Erlang". I think Erlang points to the way we wi
  • "As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it."

    brings new meaning to the phrase "script kiddie"

  • Monster Debugging (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MOBE2001 (263700)
    As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it.

    And who's going to debug all the billions of self-reproducing monsters you unleash into the world, pray tell?
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Brings a whole new meaning to a 'Raid' controller.

      RAID!
    • by megaditto (982598)
      They are gonna debug themselves.

      God has already developed some nice genetic debug tools for us: interspecies competition, predator-prey relationships, survival of the fittest, and all that.
  • outsourced to India, can we look forward to seeing incarnations of Hindu gods? Or perhaps a call center rep that can simultaneously use two headsets, hold two conversations, and use to computers at the same time to read from two poorly written support scripts?

    And where, oh where, does a two-headed marmoset controlled domestic robot fall in Islamic law?
  • So 582k? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:09PM (#22174038)
    582k ought to be enough for anybody.
  • Telling us how great a third arm would be, but it will have all kinds of unpleasant side effects that may happen to a small number of people. Good thing we are all capable of making decisions about big pharma commercials like an informed doctor. sarcasm off.
  • I originally read the title as "Scientologists Build Possibly The First Man-Made Genome"...
  • by nguy (1207026)
    As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it.

    The thought of the average programmer hacking DNA is pretty scary.
  • "As a programmer, I'm most excited by the possibility of a new platform and the programming jobs that will be created by it."

    Yes! This certainly isn't more far reaching or profound then a new job market and it's opportunities!

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