Saturday science subject: The synthetic genome

— 10:29 AM on January 26, 2008

A team of scientists in Maryland are close to creating the first artificial life form, and they may reach their goal within the year. As Nature reports, the team has pieced together a bacterial genome in the lab:

The genome for the pathogenic bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium was made in the laboratory by Hamilton Smith and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland. The genome has 582,970 of the fundamental building blocks of DNA, called nucleotide bases, making it more than a factor of ten longer than the previous-longest stretch of genetic material created by chemical means.

Now the team at the Venter institute, which includes the institute's founder, genomics pioneer Craig Venter, will aim to discover whether cells can be 'booted up' into action when loaded with this genetic programme. “This is the next step and we are working on it,” says Smith.

Nature's article has more details regarding the complicated process by which the scientists managed to build the synthetic genome. Synthesizing a single strand in a continuous process without having it break is reportedly beyond current means, so the team had 101 different DNA fragments custom-made by biotechnology companies in Washington, California, and Ontario, and pieced them together.

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