Craig Venters team copied an existing bacterial genome. They sequenced its genetic code and then used synthesis machines to chemically construct a copy. The synthetic DNA was transferred to a host cell. The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species “dictated” by the synthetic DNA.
“We’ve now been able to take that synthetic chromosome, transplant it into a recipient cell – a different organism,” Dr Venter told BBC News. “As soon as this new software goes into the cell, that cell reads that software and converts the cell into the species specified in that genetic code.” The resulting cells have replicated over a billion times, producing copies of cells with the constructed, synthetic DNA. “This is the first time any synthetic DNA has been in complete control of a cell,” said Dr Venter.
Dr Venter and his colleagues are already collaborating with pharmaceutical and fuel companies to design and develop chromosomes for bacteria that would produce useful fuels and new vaccines.
We report the design, synthesis, and assembly of the 1.08-Mbp Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cell to create new Mycoplasma mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including “watermark” sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication.
* the proof of concept cost about $20 million
* Venter’s work was a proof of principle, but future synthetic cells could be used to create drugs, biofuels and other useful products. He is collaborating with Exxon Mobil to produce biofuels from algae and with Novartis to create vaccines. “As soon as next year, the flu vaccine you get could be made synthetically,” Venter says. [Note: Venter had promised this proof concept a year or two ago, so schedules could slip]
* Venter himself maintains that he has not created life . “We’ve created the first synthetic cell,” he says. “We definitely have not created life from scratch because we used a recipient cell to boot up the synthetic chromosome
* George Church, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School, is calling for increased surveillance, licensing and added measures to prevent the accidental release of synthetic life. “Everybody in the synthetic biology ecosystem should be licensed like everybody in the aviation system is licensed.”