Another step closer to artificial life

by Anonymous on May. 20th, 2010

Researchers from J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California, have achieved a major stage in the world of synthetic genomics. A synthetic bacterial chromosome created in the lab was exchanged with the DNA in the nucleus of a bacterium and the hybrid cell self-replicated successfully. The news appears in this week's Science Express.

News of the Week at

ADDENDUM (5-21-10) In my haste yesterday, I may have minimized the significance of this news with a minor post. Here's a video from TED of Craig Venter himself explaining what they have accomplished and what it means.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Joel Bonasera's picture

Aww, you beat me to this post. I can't swing a LOLCAT around online without hearing about this.

posted on Thu, 05/20/2010 - 1:30pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

It's not completely artificial life, but it's a big step forward in the creation of synthetic organisms. The living cells in the are completely controlled by DNA designed and built in the JCVI lab.

M. mycoides JCVI-syn1: Created by intelligent design?
M. mycoides JCVI-syn1: Created by intelligent design?Courtesy Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of California at San Diego, courtesy JCVI

First, the scientists sequenced the entire genome of Mycoplasma mycoides—one of the world’s simplest bacteria. (Don’t let that fool you: the bacterium’s genetic sequence still contains more than a million base pairs.) They edited the genetic code (to make any resulting bacteria harmless, unlikely to survive outside the lab, and trackable) and used it to build real DNA. Then they removed the DNA from a cell of a related bacterium, Mycoplasma capricolum, and inserted the modified M. mycoides DNA instead. The new DNA converted the M. capricolum cells into M. mycoides cells, which were able to reproduce themselves. The new bacteria are called M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.

How do we know that the M. mycoides JCVI-syn1 bacteria are the ones reproducing? The scientists at JCVI added “watermarks”—segments of DNA that use the “alphabet” of genes and proteins to spell out words and phrases—to the genome of M. mycoides JCVI-syn1. Hidden in the DNA are an E-mail address, the names of 46 of the researchers, and three quotations: “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life” (James Joyce); “See things not as they are, but as they might be” (from American Prometheus); and “What I cannot build, I cannot understand” (Richard Feynman).

Now, we have other, simpler ways to genetically modify organisms. But completely synthetic organisms could be helpful for research in two big ways. Living organisms are incredibly complex; scientists could use cells with simpler, synthetic genomes in experiments and get cleaner results. Ultimately, synthetic genomes could be used to develop biofuels, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, clean water, and food products. And while cells with synthetic genomes can’t bring extinct species back to life, they could be used to create organisms with the genes of extinct species, giving us a look at how they lived and grew, and maybe even shedding light on how life began.

posted on Mon, 05/24/2010 - 5:24pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

A couple points:

The still image on that video makes it seem like the cells are... staring at me. Kill it?

Also, those quotes are thematically appropriate, and impressively literary, but c'mon, guys—you couldn't put something dirty in there? Then people would really know it was JCVI reproducing. It would be kind of like giving your newborn baby a prison tattoo. (Which would be awesome.) No one would mix it up!

posted on Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:33pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options