Scientists have developed the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome. They now hope to use this method to probe the basic machinery of life and to engineer bacteria specially designed to solve environmental or energy problems.
The study will be published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday, 20 May. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.
The research team, led by Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute, has already chemically synthesized a bacterial genome, and it has transplanted the genome of one bacterium to another. Now, the scientists have put both methods together, to create what they call a "synthetic cell," although only its genome is synthetic.
"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer," said Venter.
"This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind]," he said.
For example, the researchers are planning to design algae that can capture carbon dioxide and make new hydrocarbons that could go into refineries. They are also working on ways to speed up vaccine production. Making new chemicals or food ingredients and cleaning up water are other possible benefits, according to Venter.
In the Science study, the researchers synthesized the genome of the bacterium M. mycoides and added DNA sequences that "watermark" the genome to distinguish it from a natural one.
Because current machines can only assemble relatively short strings of DNA letters at a time, the researchers inserted the shorter sequences into yeast, whose DNA-repair enzymes linked the strings together. They then transferred the medium-sized st
|Contact: Natasha Pinol|
American Association for the Advancement of Science