In a truly remarkable scientific breakthrough, researchers at Synthetic Genomics, Inc. have created a living organism that is wholly controlled by man-made genetic instructions.
“We call it the first synthetic cell,” Craig Venter, the company founder who oversaw the project told the Wall Street Journal. “These are very much real cells.”
The unicellular organism can reproduce but has no living ancestors.
The laboratory methods used to create it, which are patented by Synthetic Genomics, appear to be applicable to other bacterial strains with commercial potential. In fact at least 3 companies are using similar methods to create organisms which produce fuels and vaccines and (better late than never) gobble up oil spills.
“This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature,” said molecular biologist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University. “For the first time, someone has generated an entire artificial cell with predetermined properties.”
Synthetic Genomics provided $30 million to fund the work. It owns intellectual-property rights to the entire process.
To create the new life form, Venter and bioengineer Daniel Gibson stripped out the DNA of a bacterium known as Mycoplasma capricolum and replaced it with a genome they built which was a variant of a second species known as Mycoplasma mycoides. The minor variations amount to biochemical signatures of the scientists, essentially proving the creation was theirs.
“We make a genome from four bottles of chemicals; we put that synthetic genome into a cell; that synthetic genome takes over the cell,” Gibson told the Journal. “The cell is entirely controlled by that new genome.”
The incredible work is documented in Science.
Soon after the announcement, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would hold public hearings on the matter in the near future.