Feeds

US boffins synthesize self-replicating bacteria

'It's alive! It's alive!'

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

US researchers have fashioned the first self-replicating bacterial cell, "creating new life out of already existing life."

This momentous milestone — rife with both ethical quandries and immense potential — was reached by a team of two dozen researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI) of Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California. Announced Thursday, their findings have been published (PDF) by the journal Science.

The JCVI team designed and then synthesized a 1.08 million base-pair bacterial chromosome out of DNA's four building blocks — adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine — then inserted it into a recipient yeast cell that had been stripped of its own DNA. The synthetic genome, as described by the researchers, was then "booted up" and the cell went on its merry, living way, replicating as an entirely new, synthetic life form.

M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0

The synthetic bacteria, happily reproducing themselves through cell division

In a FAQ describing the extent of this milestone, the JCVI team was careful to say that they aren't "creating life from scratch," but instead "creating new life out of already existing life using synthetic DNA to reprogram the cells to form new cells that are specified by the synthetic DNA."

The effort has taken nearly 15 years. Previous milestones have included the 2003 synthesizing of a small virus that could infect bacteria. In 2008, the JVCI team managed to synthesize a small bacterial genome, but at that time they weren't able to activate it in a cell. Now they have.

M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0

Say hello to M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0

The ramifications of being able to design cell functions are far-reaching, so much so that: "Throughout the course of this work, the team contemplated, discussed, and engaged in outside review of the ethical and societal implications of their work," according to the JCVI.

But the potential benefits could also be enormous. The ability to "routinely write the software of life," as the JCVI poetically puts it, could create bacteria that might, for example, suck carbon out of the atmosphere, clean polluted water, or sacrifice their own microscopic lives to become energy-rich components of biofuels.

The JCVI team also notes that it's of the strong opinion that "no applications of this work will or should be attempted in humans." They also assure the environmentally worried that their creations can be "engineered with so called 'suicide genes' that kick in to prevent the organism from living outside of the lab or environment in which they were grown."

Clearly, the JCVI's work — and that of its funding source, Synthetic Genomics — is sure to attract attention not only from fundamentalists who fear that man is treading into religiously or ethically proscribed territory, but also from enviros who fear that an unholy marriage of Big Science and Big Business is about to unleash biohavoc on an unprepared world.

Let the moral and legislative wrangling begin. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.