SOURCE: Vision Media

June 22, 2010 06:00 ET

Successful Synthetic Genome Introduces New Age of Biologic Tinkering: Vision.Org

The Vision Article The New Synthesis Is an Introduction to Key Issues of Biotechnical Power

PASADENA, CA--(Marketwire - June 22, 2010) -  Introduced by the J. Craig Venter Institute, a bacterium powered by a completely handmade chromosome is the world's first synthetic organism. Some have called this a technological "tour-de-force," and indeed the biological implications are great.

"Although the product is relatively simple, a seemingly insignificant clump of cells on a petri dish, the implications of the technology that brought it into being are tremendous," writes Dan Cloer in the Vision Science and Environment article "The New Synthesis."

"This is a milestone event," Vision notes. "The ability to manufacture working genes -- not merely find, extract, splice and recombine existing genes, is an advance with unlimited potential." While such steps as gene discovery and recombinant DNA processes have taken years to perfect and are the basis of the biotech industry, they pale in comparison to this quantum leap in power to manipulate and invent genomes shown by this research.

The Vision article The New Synthesis is an introduction to key issues in our expanding age of biotechnical power including gene ownership and the ability to alter organisms at human will.

In "Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome," published in the May 20th Science Express, Venter et al. described the step-by-step genome-building process. The chromosome of the bacteria Mycoplasm mycoides was first sequenced to form a digital file which was then edited: some pieces were deleted and others -- dubbed "watermark" sequences -- were added, making the information unique.

"This work provides a proof of principle for producing cells based upon genome sequences designed in the computer," the researchers wrote. "DNA sequencing of a cellular genome allows storage of the genetic instructions for life as a digital file. The synthetic genome described in this paper has only limited modifications from the naturally occurring M. mycoides genome. However, the approach we have developed should be applicable to the synthesis and transplantation of more novel genomes as genome design progresses."

It was only ten years ago that the first discoveries of the Human Genome Project were announced, also by Venter, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health. While rightly celebrated, the translation of these findings to practical ends has been slow. The kind of synthetic biology possible now, as shown by this proof-of-concept bacterial experiment, gives humankind ever greater access to the core processes of life itself.

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