Birth of the first synthetic cell
In 2008, C. Venter and his team sequenced the 1-million-base genome of M. mycoides and began to build a synthetic copy of its chromosome. Last year, they showed they could extract the M. mycoides natural chromosome, place it into yeast, modify the bacterial genome, and then transfer it to M. capricolum, a close microbial relative.
The next step was to show that the synthetic copy of the bacterial DNA could be handled the same way.
Using yeast to assemble the synthetic DNA in stages, the researchers first stitched together 10,000-base sequences, then 100,000, and finally the complete genome.
when they initially put the synthetic genome into M.
nothing happened. After months of unsuccessful transfers, they
finally get a colony of blue bacteria (blue showed the cells were
using the new genome). They sequenced the DNA in this colony
confirming that the bacteria had the synthetic genome and checked
that the microbes were indeed making proteins characteristic of M.
rather than M.
"We clearly transformed one cell into another" says Venter.
The team now plans to use the synthetic organism to work out the minimum number of genes is needed for life to exist. From this, new microorganisms could be made by bolting on additional genes to produce useful chemicals, break down pollutants, or produce proteins for use in vaccines.
"This is an important step both scientifically and philosophically" Dr Venter said to The Guardian. "It has certainly changed my views of definitions of life and how life works".
For more information online:
The research is reported in the journal Science: