August 23, 2009

Doctor Believes Artificial Life Is Just Months Away

On Friday, controversial biologist Dr Craig Venter said that the creation of artificial life was mere months from taking place.

Venter reported that his team of researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute in Maryland had transferred the DNA of one type of bacteria into a yeast cell before modifying it and transferring in into another cell, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers said the new method allowed them to clone the entire bacterial genome from Mycoplasma mycoides by adding yeast centromeric plasmid sequence to the bacterial chromosome and modifying it in yeast using yeast genetic systems.

"I believe this work has important implications in better understanding the fundamentals of biology to enable the final stages of our work in creating and booting up a synthetic genome," said Dr Hamilton Smith of the J Craig Venter team.

"This is possibly one of the most important new findings in the field of synthetic genomics."

Researchers described their new method in the journal Science on Friday.

"Bacteria have 'immune' systems that protect them from foreign DNA such as those from viruses," Dr Sanjay Vashee, a researcher at the J Craig Venter Institute, told BBC News.

The team discovered how to disable the immune systems, allowing them to access the genome.

"We have as of yet no conclusive proof that we have obtained M. genitalium cells after its genome has been put into various recipient cells," said Vashee.

"[But this] is a major advance in our effort to create a synthetic cell."

"We were very concerned that the differences between the modifications in... bacterial DNA and [yeast] DNA might be an insurmountable barrier, preventing transplantation into bacteria of genomes that were passed through yeast."

"Now we know how to do this."

"Assuming we don't make any errors, I think it should work and we should have the first synthetic species by the end of the year," said Dr Venter.


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