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Friday 25th May 2018

Life from scratch - in a test tube?

2nd July 2007

Human genome mapper Craig Venter says his research team has now taken a significant step towards producing life from scratch in the laboratory.


In a paper published in the journal Science, Venter said he and his team successfully translanted an entire genome from one bacterium cell to another, meaning that they took the body of one living organism, and injected it with a completely new genetic code.

Dr Venter said possible uses for 'designer' test-tube microbes were artificial fuel and toxic waste cleanup.

Eventually, the team hopes to stitch together artificial chromosomes, proteins and other building blocks with the aim of jumpstarting their microbe to life.

While Venter concedes that this may be a long way away, he says he has taken an important step towards that goal.

The chromosome was inserted through the cells walls and cell membrane of a different sort of bacterium, and eventually, after several days of cell division and growth, replaced the original.

Next, he wants to make artificial chromosome bundles, instead of using a ready-made one from a different species of bacteria.

However, there are fears that Venter's work could be used biological weapons, or simply cause a genetic accident of some kind; also that aggressive patenting might limit the work others could do in the same field.

Venter said his institutes had developed novel techniques by necessity in a field which did not exist only a few years ago.

"The Venter Institute and the Synthetic Genomics Company are doing what most major institutions do - that is we file patents on these unique techniques," he said.

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