Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Creation of Artificial Life

Science magazine just lifted their embargo (a day early) on a remarkable story: the first creation of truly artificial life.

Daniel Gibson et al at the J Craig Venter Institute put together two previous pieces of research: building a genome, and transplanting a genome from one cell to another. (Here is their press release.)

Now, they built a genome that was designed on a computer and its genome assembled piece-by-piece (1.1M base pairs). So it's a new genome, one not seen in nature. They then put it a bacterial cell (of a different bacterial species) and found that it expressed all the expected proteins. (The new DNA are "watermarks" only.)

This ought to create a whole new round of discussion, with a few concerns about the ethics of it all, but I doubt anything in the way of legal restrictions will come of it (as long as they don't use human cells). The ETC Group is, of course, against it.

"This is the quintessential Pandora’s box moment - like the splitting of the atom or the cloning of Dolly the sheep. We will all have to deal with the fall-out from this alarming experiment," comments Jim Thomas of the ETC Group. "Synthetic biology is a high-risk profit-driven field, building organisms out of parts that are still poorly understood.(2) We know that lab-created life-forms can escape, become biological weapons, and that their use threatens existing natural biodiversity. Most worrying of all, Craig Venter is handing this powerful technology to the world’s most irresponsible and environmentally damaging industry by partnering with the likes of BP and Exxon to hasten the commercialization of synthetic life-forms."

Although high-profile backers of synthetic biology now occupy key positions in the US Obama administration(5) there still remains no proper national or international oversight of new high-risk, technologies that carry vast implications for humanity and the natural world. In 2006, ETC Group joined with other organizations to demand the formal, open and inclusive oversight of synthetic biology(6) and have since called for a global halt on research pending the development of global regulations. ETC Group has reiterated that call at a scientific meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi attended by more than 100 governments.


  • Science sent their paper review back to JCVI written in DNA code
  • the synthetic genome contains a Web address
  • the synthetic genome contains three quotations (James Joyce, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is so cool we and all the scientest that created this should be happy it took a lot of work im sure. we shouldnt bash things we know nothing about!