Today’s Wall St. Journal carries an amazing piece about what can almost be termed “the creation of life”. Craig Venter, whose work greatly accelerated the human genome project, and his Center have come up with the following remarkable breakthrough: a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions. Scientists call the cell “Cynthia” (Synthetic Cell), following the nickname Dolly given to the first cloned sheep.
Here is what the Venter scientists discovered:
“We call it the first synthetic cell,” said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. “These are very much real cells.” Created at a cost of $40 million, this experimental one-cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said. The new cell, a bacterium, was conceived solely as a demonstration project. But several biologists said they believed that the laboratory technique used to birth it would soon be applied to other strains of bacteria with commercial potential. ”I think this quickly will be applied to all the most important industrial bacteria,” said biologist Christopher Voigt at the University of California, San Francisco, who is developing microbes that help make gasoline. Several companies are already seeking to take advantage of the new field, called synthetic biology, which combines chemistry, computer science, molecular biology, genetics and cell biology to breed industrial life forms that can secrete fuels, vaccines or other commercial products.
Venter said he intends to patent the device, because “it is a human invention”. His Center funded the research, with a private investment of $30 m.