Today, in Science, the first artificial cell was born.
Scientists from the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California announced today that they have developed the first synthetic living cell. Though theoretically this cell is the first step in the creation of artificial life, the inventors are focusing their efforts on creating new fuels, effective ways to clean polluted water, and faster vaccine production....
Scientists have moved single genes and chunks of DNA from one species to another before, but Dr. Craig Venter's team met a milestone a few years ago, transplanting an entire natural genome of one bacterium into another and watched the original goat germ turn into a cattle germ.
World's first synthetic cells: J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) via BBC News
Later Venter's lab distinguished itself by building a small bacterium's genome with man-made DNA fragments, piece by piece - another milestone.
It was both milestone achievements that, combined, led the team to the 'synthetic cell' disclosed today. The researchers started out by combining two small species of Mycoplasma with a chemically synthesized goat germ genome, and finally transplanted that into a living cell from a different Mycoplasma species.
The team encountered an obstacle here and they eventually had to spell check (!) the DNA fragments of the synthetic genome to make sure there were no errors. The delay in the achievement of their goal was about three months, but finally, they learned the spell checker found a typo in the genetic code!
Once it was fixed, the synthetic DNA and its cytoplasm, having been tagged to distinguish it from the DNA of the natural Mycoplasma, started to produce its own proteins. Those proteins showed no relationship to their synthetic, genetic 'parent,' but instead looked and behaved exactly like the natural Mycoplasma.
Synthetic DNA may cause ethical concerns for some, but Synthia, as she (?) is fondly called by her creators, is getting plenty of praise from companies ready to join the new field of synthetic biology, a combination of chemistry, computer science, molecular biology, genetics and cell biology, to breed industrial life
forms that can secrete fuels, vaccines or other saleable products." (WSJ)
Daisy, meet Synthia.
sources: BBC News, Globe And Mail, WSJ