Sunday, May 23, 2010

Artificial life

Jack Dikian

Life as we know it - Life as it could be!

As a development of that ongoing effort, last week Venter announced in the pages of Science magazine that his research team had – by putting together a living and replicating bacterium from synthetic components, inserting a computer-generated genome into a cell – "created life" in the laboratory for the first time. The experiment suggested the possibility of creating bacteria to perform specific functions: as producers of fossil fuels or medicines.

"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic (gene-bearing) chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesiser, starting with information in a computer," Dr Venter said.

Venter first came to international attention as the biologist who attached himself to the painstaking $5bn, 15-year programme to decode the human genetic blueprint, "the book of life" Human Genome Project and announced that he could do it much more quickly and much more cheaply with private capital.

How artificial life is created

1. Decode DNA from a bacterium (single-celled organism), in this case Mycoplasma mycoides

2. Synthetically create the DNA of the bacterium in the lab and add a "watermark" to distinguish it from real DNA

3. Transplant the artificial DNA into a living bacterium (in this case Mycoplasma capricolum) with its own authentic DNA

4. Allow the bacterium, which now contains artificial and authentic DNA, to divide and create "daughter" bacteria, some of which contain artifical DNA and others that contain authentic DNA

5. Add an antibiotic that kills the bacteria with authentic DNA, but not the bacteria with artificial DNA

6. Allow the artifical bacteria to produce proteins

The artificial DNA produce proteins from the original bacterium, the Mycoplasma mycoides, qualifying as the world's first artificial cell


MIT Press, Artificial Life, the official journal of the International Society of Artificial

Extracts and image from The Australian (May, 2010)

Guardian (the Observer Profile)

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