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Biotech Science

Synthetic Genome Drives Bacterial Cell 174

Dr. Eggman writes " brings us news of a synthetic genome, produced by the J. Craig Venter Institute, being used in an existing bacterial cell for the first time. Using a combination of biological hosts, the technique produces short strings of DNA by machine which are then inserted into yeast to be stitched together via DNA-repair enzymes. The medium sequences are passed into E. coli and back into yeast. After three rounds, a genome of three million base pairs was produced." (More below.)
"Specifically, the genome of M. mycoides was synthesized from scratch. This synthetic genome was then inserted into the cells of a bacteria known as Mycoplasm capricolum. The result is a cell, driven by a synthetic genome, producing not the proteins of Mycoplasm capricolum, but of M. mycoides. The institute has far-reaching plans for its synthetic life program, including designing algae that can capture carbon dioxide, make new hydrocarbons for refineries, make new chemicals or food ingredients, and speed up vaccine production." The BBC has coverage of the hybrid cell as well.
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Synthetic Genome Drives Bacterial Cell

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  • Waits for... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:20PM (#32283584)

    ... the first fully patented life forms. I'm really curious how that would work.... let's say an egg gets a fully artificial set of chromosomes that include patented genes for fixing Thyroid diseases, preventing breast cancer, and purple hair with green skin. Let's also say that that egg develops into a regular person. Is that person property? What happens if they have kids? Do they need to pay royalties?

    I can't wait for this stuff, because it will allow for some truly awesome fixes to truly terrible diseases. But I'm also pretty sure that this will result in legal messes of epic proportions. Monsanto will be a side show compared to that.

  • Re:What... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:28PM (#32283720)

    Obvious troll, but I'll bite. How is this any different than the rampant and completely unsupervised genetic twiddling that has been happening in nature for the last few billion years?

    The genome was produced by machine (from a digital copy of a sequenced genome). Presumably, if somebody wrote a brand new genome, it could be inserted into a living organism by the same procedure.

    I guess we can now start finding out which genes are really necessary for an organism to function...

    (I am not a biologist.)

  • Re:Take that, IDers! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by virtualXTC ( 609488 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:38PM (#32283894) Homepage
    Lets not get a head of our selves here, they've only re-programmed a cell, not created artificial life. If you are looking for a fully artificial cell you should focus on what's going on in George Church's lab [].
  • Re:What... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:02PM (#32284324) Homepage Journal

    We wish the programmer of the Therac-25 HAD asked himself whatcouldpossiblygowrong.

    At the same time, just like with computers, there are many potential benefits to be had. Perhaps more than computers. Of course, computers aren't free to roam the earth, multiply, and then colonize our bodies, so we need to make really sure the right questions are asked.

    This particular research was reasonably well thought out and probably couldn't produce anything viable that can't be produced through random mutation anyway. For some of the more advanced work coming up, it should probably be combined with some of the research already done on producing "kill switches", generally creating a dependence on something not available in the wild.

  • Re:What... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:14PM (#32284528)
    This is funny because I just bought The Windup Girl [] today, which takes a future Monsanto controlled dystopian future to an extreme. A little depressing, but a good read.

    But the funny part is that Monsanto would welcome any sort of biological catastrophe, as they're the only ones that would be capable of fighting it. Kind of like how my paranoid father thinks the majority of viruses are produced by Norton and McCafee on the side just to stir up business, Monsanto could produce a better fungus to drive up business.

    Evil, malicious, and a wonton disregard for human suffering, but massively profitable.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:16PM (#32284570) Homepage Journal

    To their credit, Venter doesn't seem to be claiming they made new life, but they are aiming for that eventually, and I'm curious as to what slashdot thinks about when we can actually say we've created artificial life.

    I'd say it's life once the constructed bacteria show that they're able to reproduce, and keep doing so for a number of generations (which can take place pretty quickly for bacteria.) Until then it's an interesting piece of machinery.

  • Re:What... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:42PM (#32285014)

    1. It would be directed, allowing it to create things that evolution just wouldn't.
    2. Nature doesn't have a great track record itself so adding yet more adds more risk. I'm sure all the life that did exist before cyanobacteria evolved and killed everything else buy spewing out toxic oxygen would have prefered a bit less unsupervised genetic twidling...

    But don't get me wrong, I think this is great stuff and we should keep on doing it.

  • Re:What... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Unequivocal ( 155957 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:46PM (#32285058)

    Computers and robots can't reproduce without our help. The same criticism (whatcouldpossiblygowrong) would hold when they can.

  • by James_Duncan8181 ( 588316 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:58PM (#32285250) Homepage

    "The new bacteria replicated over a billion times, producing copies that contained and were controlled by the constructed, synthetic DNA." - []

    Yes, it really is life.

  • by Flambergius ( 55153 ) * on Thursday May 20, 2010 @05:34PM (#32285822)

    Is it life? Yes. It's true that life is somewhat difficult to define, but bacteria lies well within any definition I've heard.

    Did they make it? Well, that's a bit more complex.

    Bacteria is basically a self-replicating machine that has software to encode it's own building instructions. Its software gets replaced, so it won't any more build copies of itself, but rather a different machine. That new machine is also a self-replicating machine, just a different one (down to protein level). Now both machines build new machines based on the same software. Add several generations and death of the earlies generation. (I think the change is gradual.) Result is a colony of self-replicating machines that are not like the original machine but are like each other. No trace of the original remains.

    Also note that the exact type of the original bacteria isn't important. They used the ones they did because they are practical, but they could have used different ones and would have ended up with the same end result. Software/genome determines the composition of the end result.

    Is that making? I think it is. An intentional act, using the original bacteria to bootstrap a process, that determines the end result and produces something that would not otherwise exist. One could, I guess, define making to exclude bootstrapping techniques, but I think there are several programmers of silicon-based computers that would disagree with that definition.


  • Ugh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @11:28PM (#32288836) Homepage Journal
    I am not learning to program in DNA. That's like the assembly language of the molecular biology world. Could someone come up with a nice ruby module so I can just mixin the traits I want?
  • Re:Take that, IDers! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:39AM (#32289282)

    This experiment may not LOOK that impressive, but consider that the exact same technique can be used to computer modify any type of life you want in any way. Want a hen with teeth - no problem. Replace the feathers with scales ... just a matter of computer programming, then "print" the DNA and animate it.

    Except of course they blindly programmed. They copied the DNA, no more no less. All that they did was prove that a DNA photocopy machine can work. Yup, we knew that years ago. We could make DNA years ago, maybe I am missing something, but I am not surprised by this at all.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright