Venter Hopes Synthetic Life Will Be Possible in One Month

It is report in New Scientist that if the ability to build a synthetic genome can be combined with this technique to transplant it, then the dawn of synthetic life could be close. Indeed Venter hopes this biological milestone will be possible in just a month or so.

Bloomberg News has coverage of the work by Venter and his team on synthetic life.

When the transplanted bacteria in their previous effort failed to function, Venter’s team realized that the restriction enzymes might be interfering. By transplanting the DNA of the first bacteria, Mycoplasma mycoides, into yeast, whose genetics are easier to manipulate, they were able to modify the bacterial chromosomes in two important ways.

First they changed its properties in ways that could be beneficial for creating new products. Second, they converted pieces of the bacterial DNA to keep them from being recognized and attacked by the restriction enzymes. This allowed them to transplant the modified bacterial DNA into a second bacterium and bring the new form to life.

This most recent work edges Venter one step closer to creating synthetic life. He has already shown that genomes can be built from scratch, by taking the gene sequence of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium and constructing it in the lab.

The next step will be to insert a lab-built genome into a bacterial cell, creating a brand new living organism. Avoiding recognition and destruction will be a very important part of this process.

If the ability to build a synthetic genome can be combined with this technique to transplant it, then the dawn of synthetic life could be close. Indeed Venter hopes this biological milestone will be possible in just a month or so.

Venter’s quest for synthetic life ultimately aims to create purpose-built organisms that can carry out specific roles, such as producing biofuels or even making hydrogen.

“The advantage of synthetic DNA is that it allows even more radical changes than an engineered genome,” says geneticist George Church of Harvard medical school. “The key advances in this paper seem to be the transfer of DNA derived from Mycoplasma from yeast into a different Mycoplasma strain.”

FURTHER READING
Journal Science abstract: “Creating Bacterial Strains from Genomes That Have Been Cloned and Engineered in Yeast”

We recently reported the chemical synthesis, assembly, and cloning of a bacterial genome in yeast. To produce a synthetic cell, the genome must be transferred from yeast to a receptive cytoplasm. Here, we describe methods to accomplish this. We cloned a Mycoplasma mycoides genome as a yeast centromeric plasmid, and then transplanted it into Mycoplama capricolum to produce a viable M. mycoides cell. While in yeast, the genome was altered using yeast genetic systems, and then transplanted to produce a new strain of M. mycoides. These methods allow the construction of strains that could not be produced with genetic tools available for this bacterium

Science Magazine article “Two Steps Forward for Synthetic Biology” by Elizabeth Pennisi

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