An Engineer in Wonderland – Artificial life, but not as we’ll know it
Dr Craig Venter claims to have made a synthetic bacterial cell.
However, as far as I can tell – and I am sorry for any errors here – he has:
Read the DNA of an existing bacteria – Mycoplasma mycoides
Synthesised that DNA, adding some sections to aid assembly
Inserted the synthetic DNA into a bacteria whose own DNA had been removed
Persuaded the resulting cell or cells to multiply
Every step is amazing and valuable, but I do feel that it falls short of making artificial life.
To trivialise it, it is a bit like taking all of the salt out of a cell, then replacing it with some that you made yourself from sodium and chlorine.
To claim a synthetic bacterial cell, I think you would need to have one, or preferably both, of the following:
Design the DNA from scratch, then put it into a cell.
Put copied DNA into a synthetic cell.
Maybe Dr Venter has been the victim of poor reporting, which I hope I am not contributing to.
Or maybe he has a touch of the showman about him.
Still, well done Dr Venter, you are laying foundations for artificial life.
The next step for Ventner is to whittle life down to its essence.
“With this successful proof of principle, the group will now work on creating a minimal genome, which has been a goal since 1995. They will do this by whittling away at the synthetic genome and repeating transplantation experiments until no more genes can be disrupted and the genome is as small as possible. This minimal cell will be a platform for analyzing the function of every essential gene in a cell,” said his institute.
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