Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The First Cell with a Synthetic Genome

The big news in biology last week is the creation of a viable, replicating cell with a wholly synthetic genome. The work was done at the J. Craig Venter Institute and you can hear Venter himself talk about the breakthrough at TED:

Or, if you want more of the nitty-gritty, you can read the paper published last week in Science (free access).

And, of course, there are plenty of reactions. Nature has collected the opinions of a handful of experts, as has Edge.org. That something like this can be done, conceptually, is unsurprising. We've seen viable cells with exogenous genomes - albeit not synthetic genomes - before. (Think Dolly or the resurrected ibex) Technologically, though, the successful synthesis and transplantation of a Mbp genome is pretty exciting, particularly if synthesis costs follow the trends of gene sequencing. The implications for genetic engineering are obvious, and with the publication of the Neanderthal genome earlier in the month the imagination really gets going.

Naturally there are some confused objections, fears and doomsday predictions as well, which are dutifully taken-down by P.Z. Myers.