Science!: Tongue Breathing and Synthetic Cells

Lauren Admire | 24 May 2010 17:00

First Synthetic, Self-Replicating Cell Created

Dr. J. Craig Venter and other research scientists have created the first live cell to house an entirely synthetic, man-made and self-replicating genome. Synthetic cells like these could eventually be of use in the biofuel industry, where cells could be specially made to trap carbon dioxide and convert it into biofuel.

"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," states Venter. Essentially, this cell's daddy was a computer.

The cell was assembled in steps. First, the genome needed to be constructed outside of the cell. Short strands of DNA were injected into a yeast cell, which combined the DNA strands and glued them together, eventually creating a full genome. The synthetic genome was injected into the bacteria Mycoplasma capricolum, and started producing proteins. Eventually, the bacteria's original genome was either destroyed or replaced, and the synthetic genome took over the cell replication process (see neat, uber-sciency chart here).

This biological breakthrough comes with its share of controversy. Some researchers are claiming that the term "synthetic cell" is misleading, since Venter and team didn't so much create new life, but just modified already existing life. President Obama and co. have also expressed concern about the report, claiming that it raised "genuine concerns" within the administration. Obama has asked the White House bioethics commission to start researching concerns over synthetic biology and get back to him in 6 months with its findings. The concerns range from safety and security of introducing synthetic DNA and genomes into a living system, and the non-physical; should mankind be "creating life?"

Source: Science Daily

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