First Man-Made Genome Boots Up


All artificial

Today, the journal Science is announcing that researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) have created the first genome from scratch, uploaded it into a bacterium and it works. The Science press release explains:

Scientists have developed the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome. They now hope to use this method to better understand the basic machinery driving all life and to engineer bacteria specially outfitted for fuel production, for example, or environmental cleanup. The research team has already chemically synthesized a bacterial genome, and they have transplanted the genome of one bacterium to another. Now, Daniel Gibson and colleagues have put both methods together, to create what they call a "synthetic cell," although only its genome is synthetic. In this case, the synthetic genome was a copy of an existing genome, though with added DNA sequences that "watermark" the genome to distinguish it from a natural one. In the future, the scientists would like to design more novel genomes that would make bacteria capable of performing specific tasks that could help solve energy, environmental or other problems. The team first synthesized the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, then transplanted it into Mycoplasma capricolum. The new genome "booted up" the recipient cells. Although fourteen genes were deleted or disrupted in the transplant bacteria, they still looked like normal M. mycoides bacteria and produced only M. mycoides proteins, the authors report. "If the methods described here can be generalized, design, synthesis , assembly and transplantation of synthetic chromosomes will no longer be a barrier to the progress of synthetic biology," they write.

For more information on the research go to the JCVI site here.

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  1. As long as the don’t clone DanT, I’m ok with this.

  2. It’s wholly irrational but every time I read something like this the intro to the movie I Am Legend seems like it’s playing in the background.

    1. The Omega Man, please.

      1. I prefer the novella to either, but the dialog at the start of Legend creeps me out.

        TV chick: So you have actually cured cancer.

        Krippin: Yes, yes… yes, we have.

        And then things take a turn for the worse.

        1. Ooh, a Price/Heston man-off! That’s like a paradox or something.

          1. Sounds more like what you think about when humping your wife.

            1. Yes, I understand your fear. Favoring one of them over the other is like picking the hottest Greek goddess when they come by asking you to. Even Zeus passed on that. Smart god.

              1. Last Man is more faithful, but Omega a pure blast of semi-goofy fun. I love Price, but nothing beats Heston laughing at hippies while watching Woodstock over the dozenth time.

                1. Heston shooting “zombies” in his garage is pretty great stuff, but I am a huge Price fan, and I also value faithfulness to the story, since it’s never been done properly and it’s been done 3, or even possibly 4 (Soy leyenda), times.

                  1. I agree that the book never really made it to film. I read it for the first time last year–good stuff.


                    2. DADDY!!!!

                2. Nothing like Heston, especially in the Apocalypse Trilogy.

        2. Whilst I do love me some Vincent Price (esp. as the Abominable Dr Thebes), it’s clearly Heston in a jumpsuit for the win.

          1. the Price version didn’t really do a whole lot for me. Heston ftw.

          2. They both were great. My favorite Heston performance is probably from The Planet of the Apes (the film was never remade, okay?). As for Price, I always liked him in The Raven.

          3. Don’t you mean The Abominable Dr. Phibes?

            To be honest, I prefer Price as a really hammy actor (that is, the character is a ham) in the Robert Mitchum movie His Kind of Woman, or even as a nasty prosecuting attorney in Leave Her to Heaven.

      2. The Omega Man, please.

        “100% Anglo-Saxon, baby.”

        1. That may be true, but his serum was “160-proof old Anglo-Saxon, baby.”

          1. I swear that they over-dubbed that in some copies.

            1. Get thee to google video, SF.

              1. I don’t doubt you. I just think it might have been over-dubbed for American TV. Since all I have now is the DVD, I doubt I’ll be able to solve it.

    2. Really? I always see the cover of Herbert’s The White Plague in my head. You know, the one with the giant white helix arching over the landscape?

      1. That’s what I was thinking, too.

  3. For the benefit of my fellow illiterati, what does all this mean?

    1. They were able to transplant synthesized (fake but similar) DNA into a naturally occuring bacterium, and it continued to do bacterial stuff.

    2. Think of DNA as a computer program that tells the cell what to do. This is the first time scientists have successfully written their own “computer program,” instead of nature doing it.

      1. They didn’t write their own program, they merely synthesized a copy of an existing genome, with marker sequences added.

        Molecular geneticists synthesize DNAs all the time.

        They didn’t just plug DNA into an empty membrane sack, either. They transplanted it into an already living cell, so the transcription, translation, and replication machinery were already in place.

        The headlines make it all sound much more fancy and difficult than it actually is.

      2. (and I know you know this, heller, i was just keeping the thread intact)

  4. Imagine the equivalent of a crop duster flying over the Gulf of Mexico spraying a bacterial solution that will feed off the oil spill. The bacteria grow and multiple until the oil is gone, and then they die off.

    Next imagine a random mutation that allows a bacterium in the oil spill to digest all petroleum products (like plastic) getting loose and wiping out all the synthetic materials in the world.

    There you have the promise and the nightmare. Pick your side and have at it.

    1. Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters addresses your second point quite nicely, kinnath.

      1. There was a lot of work a decade or so ago to genetically engineer bacteria that would eat plastic so that it wouldn’t sit in landfills for thousands of years. Of course, the worry-worts in society were concerned about the bacteria getting loose and destroying every plastic item in the world.

        1. Yeah, I remember the materials guys trying to make biodegradable plastic. Of course, the first one came out in the mid-80s, but had about as much commercial appeal as a polished turd.

          1. This was independent of the development of biodegradable plastics. The idea was to go after all the plastic that is already in landfills.

        2. Dr. Chakrabarty, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

          1. Tell me you googled to get that name.

            1. Only the spelling.

              1. I knew work had been done, but I could not have told you the names of the pioneers.

        3. Of course, the worry-worts in society were concerned about the bacteria getting loose and destroying every plastic item in the world.

          You’d think the environmentalists would consider this a feature, not a bug. Some goes for the bacterium that chomps on oil spills.

          1. Steal some from a lab, seed the oil fields with it.
          2. …
          3. Ecotopia!

    2. doom Dooom DOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    3. So, much like No Blade of Grass?

    4. “Imagine the equivalent of a crop duster flying over the Gulf of Mexico spraying a bacterial solution that will feed off the oil spill.”

      from your lips to ms. brewer’s ears

  5. He who would change the creation of Allah has taken Satan for a friend, but Allah has made serviceable to you whatsoever is in His creation, and your mind is His gift. So kill whoever you want. Go ‘way. Batin’.

  6. No way dude now that is just too cool!


  7. I predicted almost 30 years ago that the basic production technology of the future would be to design an organism that could eat what you have and shit what you want.

    An example would be what nature did for us when yeasts developed the ability to each sugar and shit alcohol.

    1. Biochemicals for certain — drugs and hormones in particular.

      1. Isn’t that how most insulin production is done now? Where’s our resident diabetic?

        1. E. Coli. At least for the stuff I take.

        2. To clarify, we already have the ability to insert genes into existing bacteria to do cool things like make insulin.

          The breakthrough here is to create an entirely new organism. It would be like writing new assembly code and then printing it out as DNA. You replace the old DNA in a bacterium with the new one you printed out.

          Once the process is stablized, you could custom build a bacterium from scratch to make pretty much any organic compound you wanted.

          1. So, who here is up for making THC bacteria?

            If I can get some percentage of my resident gut flora to produce THC, I can walk around baked all the time with no one the wiser.

            1. THC? You think so small. Cocaine is the way to go, and then at night your night cycle turns on the Valium gut flora.

              1. I want all my drug glands. What about Sharp Blue, dammit?

                1. If Reason pussies out and doesn’t post the Mohammed submissions, I’m gonna need calm, and a lot of it.

    2. “I predicted almost 30 years ago”

      [citation needed]

    3. Gaunius|5.20.10 @ 2:50PM|#
      I predicted almost 30 years ago that the basic production technology of the future would be to design an organism that could eat what you have and shit what you want.

      An example would be what nature did for us when yeasts developed the ability to each sugar and shit alcohol.

      A company I know is tweaking that to have yeast eat cellulose and shit ethanol. According to them its the cheapest way to produce the stuff, but tricky to do in scale I suppose.

  8. These things will consume and replace us, cell by cell, without us knowing.

    If a H&R posting gets replaced with a pod person, how can you tell?

    1. [Points at Jeff P with arm extended, opening mouth in an “O” of horror and emitting a scream.]

    2. We’re all pod-people now.

      1. Y’know, it’s been three years, it’s time for another metaphor-heavy Body Snatchers remake. This time from the tea-party POV.

        Or a hip-hop musical version about urban disenfranchisement. It will be called “Snatchin'”

        1. I think that movie should be remade every two years. I’m pushing for a constitutional amendment to make it happen.

          1. The odds are one will be good by accident at that rate.

        2. The last one was about pharmaceuticals, the next one can be about social networking (which they kinda did on Dr Who).

          My mother was recently replaced with a Bachelorette addict…

  9. I told all y’all that Adam was a race of clones engineered by residents of the 12th planet and put here to mine the riches of the Middle East and North Africa.

    1. I always suspected you were Zecharia Sitchen.

  10. This will come in real handy when we need to make a virus that kills alien invaders.

  11. This will come in real handy when we need to make a virus that kills alien invaders.

    1. Just illustrating how the bacteria replicate themselves.

      1. Do it a few more times. “The Seven Kevins” would be an awesome name for a superteam.

  12. This technology holds the promise of someday inserting functioning brains into politicians.

    1. DNA into Bacteria, Brains into Politicians. At least the dimension/scale is right.

  13. Damn.

    Task #1. Start research into synthetic bacteriums that can survive in Martian surface conditions.

    Task #2. Get them to Mars before some extreme environmentalists declare it to be a wilderness preserve.

    1. Task#3. Link them to some hot celebrity and build some buzz.

  14. Where’s Muhammad?

  15. I smell a great way of retcon’ing Battlestar Galatica to finally address that stupid “they’re synthetic, but they’re so much like us that we can’t even tell they’re synthetic” idea the writers kept dry humping.

    1. Except for the whole glowy spine thing, which they kind of dropped.

      Cuz you KNOW Ellen liked it doggy style with Saul…

      1. Ron got carried away with his delusions of grandeur. He went from decent space opera to attempting Space Hamlet.

    2. Except for the glowing spine (which was stupid) I always liked the notion that they were completely organic, but their clones were “blank” mentally and the AI of the Cylon was “written” on the completely organic brain during resurrection made the most sense. (As in John Barne’s The Armies of Memory or Neal Asher’s Prador Moon.)

      1. Something like that is the only way they can all start with the same personality and knowledge base. But how they manage to keep that information intact during the death/resurrection cycle kind of bugged me. You’re talking about moving a crapload of data in a very brief time with no possibility of transmission loss or data error. Yeah, wave the hands and posit some sufficiently advanced tech, but Shannon and Nyquist were some smart mofos. I don’t see getting around channel capacity without some quantum entanglement device with effectively infinite bandwidth. If you’re that advanced, why are you playing with the stupid humans, anyway?

  16. Ronald Bailey wrote:

    First Man-Made Genome Boots Up

    Where do I get my Genome Boots?

  17. This is fantastic! This could give way to many solutions regarding human health and well being. Thanks for the update. By the way, this group of medical research assistants might interest and help you in some ways. More power!

  18. This is an amazing and an entirely under-acknowledged achievement for humanity.

    Just as the first computer program began a new chapter in man-made tools (culminating in robotics), so too will man-made bio-bots transform our future.

    1. I would argue that our pure software tools are every bit as significant as our combined software/hardware tools.

  19. The lede oversells this a little; it’s not really made from scratch, as the release makes clear; this is an awesome engineering feat and a another big milestone towards their ultimate goal, in classic JCVI style.

    If they keep this up, they’ll have their stuff finished before protein conformation is far enough along to make full use of their work. If so, I hope they’re allowed to take some time off to take a crack at RNA-world style abiogenesis.

    Go Team Venter!

  20. The article should have been titled as Synthia &? Apollo and their Synthetic Life.


    Cynthia or “Synthia” was originally an epithet of the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis, who was sometimes called “Cynthia” because, according to legend, the goddess was born on Mount Cynthus. Known also as a master? of animals. Parallel Greek goddess to Roman goddess Diana. Daughter of Leto and twin sister of Apollo.

    Synthia & Apollyon are one in the same… The hermaphrodite beast of the book of Revelations as seen as Apollyon and the ‘scarlet whore’ named? as Hel…

    All you have to do is study the Apollo/Athena, whom is Synthia/Artemis, angle in every story/issue/matter, and you will find the source of the evil. Because the beast named as Apollo/Athena is at the core of EVERY evil ever seen down through ALL the eons and ages… That evil can be seen when? the connected names are completed… They touch every evil ever known…

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