Tuesday 9 October 2007
Craig Venter, the scientist who controversially commercialized the efforts of the Human Genome Project, is claiming to have constructed a synthetic chromosome with his research team, giving rise to an artificial life form. Mr. Venter's institute is expected to make an announcement concerning the development in the coming weeks. If true, the potential applications are simply awe-inspiring. Organisms could be "created" for a plethora of uses. Potential applications include, but are not limited to; medical treatments, environment protection, energy production and, unfortunately, biological weapons of vast sophistication. Speaking about the research Mr. Venter said:
"[this is] a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before".
The team was able to construct an artificial chromosome of 381 genes and the DNA sequence they have pieced together is based upon the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium (see picture). The original bacterium had a fifth of its DNA removed and was able to live successfully with the synthetic chromosome in place. The man-made organism, dubbed Mycoplasma laboratorium, still relied upon the intracellular machinery already present to carry out tasks such as replication and metabolism, and in this respect the entity is not an entirely new life form. Though the potential may be phenomenal, at the moment all there is to go on is a scientist's word, and in science facts are the only language of proof. We will be waiting for an official announcement with baited breath.