The world has changed forever thanks to Craig Venter – Synthetic Life
Researchers in the US have developed the first synthetic living cell. Their work, which many scientists have called a landmark study, is a key step towards the design and creation of new living things.
They are calling this a synthetic living cell. But they did use an existing cell as a template and as a recipient for their home-made DNA. Strictly speaking, it is only the genome – the DNA in the cell – that is entirely synthetic.
This bacterial cell, the researchers say, is the first life form to be entirely controlled by synthetic DNA.
How a synthetic cell
The scientists „decoded” the chromosome of an existing bacterial cell – using a computer to read each of the letters of genetic code.
They copied this code and chemically constructed a new synthetic chromosome, piecing together blocks of DNA.
The team inserted this chromosome into a bacterial cell which replicated itself. Synthetic bacteria might be used to make new fuels and drugs.
The researchers also employed „nature’s tools” to build their new chromosome (the package of DNA that contains all of the genetic material the cell needs to live and function).
They chemically constructed blocks of DNA then inserted them into yeast cells, which assembled the blocks into a complete bacterial chromosome.
What will the scientists do with these synthetic bacteria?
These particular cells are just copies of existing or „wild type” bacteria. But they show that making a living cell with a synthetic chromosome is possible. Dr Craig Venter and his colleagues hope to use this technology to design new bacteria from scratch – cells that could carry out useful functions.
Could they use this same technique to make more complex synthetic organisms – like plants or animals?
Theoretically, yes. But the current aim is to design and build bacterial cells.
They are an ideal first candidate because they could potentially produce substances that we want. Dr Venter believes such tailor-made bacteria could „create a new industrial revolution”.
And, in genetic terms, bacteria are very simple organisms.
They typically have a single, circular chromosome of DNA. On the other hand, every single cell in the human body contains 23 pairs of much larger, linear chromosomes. So bacteria have much less information in their genomes and it has been possible to sequence and copy all of this information.
Dr Venter says that extending the technique to higher organisms, such as plants, might be possible, but it will take scientists many years to work out how to build such large and complex genomes.