The genome pioneer J Craig Venter has taken another step in his quest to create synthetic life, by synthesizing an entire bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell.
Venter calls the result a “synthetic cell” and considers it to open the way to creating useful microbes from scratch. Ventersaid: “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” Other scientists too agree that he has achieved a technical feat in synthesizing the largest piece of DNA so far and in making it accurate enough to substitute for the cell’s own DNA.
Venter’s aim is to achieve total control over a bacterium’s genome, first by synthesizing its DNA in a laboratory and then by designing a new genome stripped of many natural functions and equipped with new genes that govern production of useful chemicals.
Venter’s assertion that he has created a “synthetic cell” has alarmed people who think that he has created a new life form.
“My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that they have created a new life form,” said Jim Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University. “What they have created is an organism with a synthesized natural genome. But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form.”
Three Indian-origin scientists are part of the team. The 24-member team includes Sanjay Vashee, Radha Krishnakumar and Prashanth P Parmar.