Scientists Create First Synthetic Cell, Opening New Era in Biology

If you’re a biologist, this is a very big deal. Robert Lee Hotz reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Heralding a new era in biology, scientists for the first time have created a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions, which can survive and reproduce itself, researchers at the private J. Craig Venter Institute announced Thursday.

“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 $30 million, this experimental one-cell organism 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 accomplishment, documented in the peer-reviewed journal Science, may stir anew nagging questions of ethics, law and public safety about artificial life that biomedical experts have been publicly debating for more than a decade.

“This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature,” said molecular biologist Richard Ebright at Rutgers University, who wasn’t involved in the project. “For the first time, someone has generated an entire artificial cell with pre-determined properties.”…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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  • Spooky

    That's awesome…but, what sort of cell is it? What does it do? It has to have some other function besides self propagation, what was it based on? And are there any signs of degeneration?

    • mcgibbo

      It's a synthetic bacterium nicknamed Synthia. Craig Venter himself says “This cell we've made is not a miracle cell that's useful for anything, it is a proof of a concept.”
      He is trying to create organisms that can perfomed specialised functions but would never evolve in nature, his team is investigating how the technology could produce microbes that make vaccines and algae that turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels.

      • Reboot

        Road to hell is paved with good intentions…

  • Spooky

    That's awesome…but, what sort of cell is it? What does it do? It has to have some other function besides self propagation, what was it based on? And are there any signs of degeneration?

  • 5by5

    This is undoubtedly a scientific achievement, but simply because you CAN do a thing, doesn't mean you SHOULD. It doesn't help that Venter is a douche that I wouldn't trust farther than I could throw.

    He's sent out teams of people into remote indigenous populations and lied to them, telling them that “We're treating you for a disease,” while simultaneously taking DNA samples from them then running off to go patent these people gene sequences for millions in profit, which giving exactly SQUAT back to the people who's literal IDENTITY he's just stolen from.

    I don't like him very much, and I object more broadly to the entire idea of “patenting” life.

    And that's just one issue here.

  • Reboot

    Road to hell is paved with good intentions…

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