A Step Toward Synthetic Life - Mycoplasma laboratorium
   Venter's research group at the Venter Institute announced in the journal Science, January 11, 2008 (10:1126/Science.1151721) that they had manufactured the entire genome of Mycoplasma genitalium from scratch by stitching together DNA pieces. Making a synthetic bacterial chromosome is a watershed step toward making a synthetic organism in the emerging discipline of synthetic biology.
   The research team, led by Nobel laureate, Hamilton O. Smith, did not actually assembly the chromosome from scratch, but rather purchased pre-made segments of gene sequences from the  company,
DNA 2.0, that makes DNA gene pieces for research at a costs of about $1 a base. Venter's group ordered 101 such sequences, each about 5,000 to 7,000 bases pairs long, and then joined them into bigger pieces. Finally they put 4 large segments into a yeast cell, which linked them together using its own DNA repair enzyme systems.
   The real crux will come, if and when, the research team can insert the synthetic chromosome into a living bacterial shell and get it to "boot up" and take control of the bacterium's functions. In June 2007, Venter's team announced, in Science, it had already done a "chromosomal transplant" by taking the native genome of Mycoplasma mycoides and transferring it into another species of Mycoplasma capricolum, getting it to function and thereby changing one species of bacteria into another.
      One ethical concern of the research is that such methodologies might be used to make pathogens (such as smallpox) or that manufactured genomes might escape and transfect other native organisms. Some feel that the discipline of synthetic biology needs outside regulation to prevent the unintended introduction of dangerous organisms. Venter's group has modified the genome of Mycoplasma's  to make the resulting organism non-infective, as well as adding some DNA markers to distinguish the synthetic genome for the natural genome.
Biologist Venter Claims to create Life Form from Scratch - June 2005
Scientists create gene map for synthetic life - January 2008
Complete Chemical Synthesis, Assembly, and Cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium Genome - January 2008

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