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Replacing a Genome Boosts Race to Develop Designer Bugs: Study

Researchers transformed one bacterial species into another by swapping their genomes, a move that will accelerate the race to develop custom-built synthetic bugs, a pioneer on genetics said Thursday.

Craig Venter, who had a hand in mapping the human genome, said a team of his researchers had transplanted the entire genetic code of one bacterial organism into another closely related species.

The experiment marks the most ambitious attempt yet to re-engineer a living cell with a view to one day developing microorganisms that could be used for biofuels, cleaning up toxic waste, sequestering carbon or other applications.

It "is a landmark in biological engineering taking us from moving one gene or a set of genes to the ability to move an intact genome," said Barbara Jasny, deputy editor of the journal Science, which first reported the experiment in this week's issue.

For decades, molecular biologists have genetically modified microbes and other kinds of cells by adding short DNA sequences, whole genes and even large pieces of chromosomes in their quest to fashion synthetic bugs that can make anti-malaria drugs or novel biofuels.

But this is the first time that researchers have transplanted an entire genome into a living organism and shown that the cell can express the foreign DNA.

"This is equivalent to changing a Macintosh computer to a PC by inserting a new piece of software," Venter said.

It's a "landmark in biological engineering," said Barbara Jasny, deputy editor of the journal Science, which first reported the experiment in this week's issue.

The experiment shows for the first time that it is possible to insert an intact genome into a host organism and have that organism express the foreign DNA. The next step is to create a synthetic genome and transplant that into a host organism.

"It's a key enabling step," said Venter. "Synthetic biolo
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