Craig Venter Boots up First Synthetic Cell

News — By on July 11, 2010 at 5:21 am

Craig Venter and his team have created the first self-replicating synthetic cell, blazing the way for a new era in synthetic biology and bringing scientists ever-closer to creating synthetic life.

Venter called his work the culmination of a “15-year quest.” He is best known for his work in mapping the human genome a decade ago. Details of this breakthrough, the last in a three-step process, will be published in the journal Science.

The scientists did not create a synthetic genome from scratch, though that is their ultimate goal. Instead, they copied an existing genome from the simple bacterium. They wrote out its entire genetic code as a digital computer file. Using a biochemical alphabet consisting of the building blocks of DNA, they translated the computer file into many small pieces of chemical DNA. After stitching the pieces together they had a synthetic copy of the entire genome, with minor changes. The manmade genome “booted up” the new cell and produced daughter cells through replication—more than 1 billion to date. That original colony is now in a freezer in Maryland awaiting regeneration.

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