Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Kasun Wakwella - Blog

Kasun Wakwella
Student ID: 42580883

The world's first artificial life form

An article in the Guardian newspaper has said that a team of researchers working at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) successfully created the world's first manmade bacterium in May 2010 (JCVI, 2010). What this means is that we are now capable of creating an entirely artificial, functioning cell, instead of just splicing DNA from one organism to another. This achievement is the culmination of over 10 years of work at the cost of $40 million, and has be heralded as "a defining moment in biology" by one researcher (Sample, 2010). The article can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form.

The man-made DNA was based off the genome of existing bacteria known as M. mycoides. The first step was to get an accurate digital copy of its entire DNA sequence, which would be the template for the synthetic genome (Venter et al, 2010). The entire genome was far too large to create in one piece, so the team had to find some way of stitching together a number of fragments of DNA. In fact, the final process was done in three stages, with hundreds of smaller DNA pieces being put together to form the whole genome. This was done within yeast cells, after which the completed genome was removed an inserted into new bacterium cells. This resulted in the creation of bacterial cells which were completely controlled by a manmade set of DNA (JCVI, 2010). While this by itself achieves little, the fact that we can now create entire genomes from scratch opens the doors to an entire world of possibilities.

DNA is the essential molecule that codes life, much like how a computer program controls how a computer functions. What this experiment proves is that now we humans have the power to use this code to do what we want. We can program life itself to solve our most important problems. The article states that it is a "landmark experiment that paves the way for organism that are built rather than evolved." (Sample, 2010). While such new and powerful technology does ring warning, with caution these artificial life forms may prove to be the answer to the most pressing issues of our time. Craig Venter, the geneticist behind this experiment said that we could start with "bacteria that churn out bio-fuels, soak up carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines." (Sample, 2010). The possibilities from there are endless.

JCVI. (2010). 'Self Replicating Synthetic Bacterial Cell.' J. Craig Venter Institute. Viewed 18 March 2012 on http://www.jcvi.org/cms/press/press-releases/full-text/article/first-self-replicating-synthetic-bacterial-cell-constructed-by-j-craig-venter-institute-researcher/.
Sample I. (2010). 'Craig Venter creates synthetic life form.' The Guardian, 20th May 2010, viewed 18 March 2012 on http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form.

Venter C., Gibson G., Glass J., Lart`igue C, Noskov V., Chuang R., Algire M, Benders G, Montague M., Li Ma1Moodie M., Merryman C., Vashee S., Krishnakumar R., Assad-Garcia N., Andrews-Pfannkoch C., Denisova E., Young L., Zhi-Qing Qi1Segall-Shapiro T., Calvey C., Parmar P., Hutchison III C and Smith H. (2010) 'Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,' Science, Vol. 329 no. 5987 pp. 52-5, viewed 18 March 2012 on http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52.full.

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