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Genetics boffins on the verge of artificial bacteria

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Genetics entrepreneur Craig Venter claims his team is on the verge of creating the first artificial lifeform.

In an interview with The Guardian this weekend, Venter said his company, Synthetic Genomics, has completed an artificial chromosome that will carry all necessary genes for a viable bacterium.

It's planned that the DNA will be transplanted into a living cell and take over the molecular reins. An announcement is reckoned to be imminent and Venter says he is 100 per cent confidence of success.

The resulting organism will only be part synthetic, but a huge breakthrough for the 20-strong team of top boffins specially assembled by Venter. He's betting on artificial organisms delivering a bonanza for medicine, renewable energy, and anti-climate change efforts.

He has already applied for a patent for this first, dubbed Mycoplasma laboratorium. His past attempts to make researchers pay for access to its work sequencing the human genome were a failure, and its data was eventually subsumed into the public database.

Venter cuts a maverick figure at the vanguard of biotech, and divides scientists in praise and criticism of his bullish approach to research and commercialisation.

Bioethics groups have expressed concerns that regulations have failed to keep pace with developments in synthetic genetics and warn that the technology coold be abused by terrorists. Venter said: "We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking.

"[This is] a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it." ®

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