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May 20, 2010
A Synthetic Genome; A New Species
As had been widely expected, Craig Venter's team has announced the production of an organism with a synthetic genome. All the DNA in these new mycoplasma cells was made first on synthesizer machines (in roughly 6 KB stretches), then assembled first enzymatically and finally in yeast into working chromosomes.
And we know that they work, because they then transplanted them into mycoplasma and ended up with a new species. The cells grow normally, with the same morphology as wild-type, and sequencing them shows only the synthetic genome - which, interestingly, has several "watermark" sequences imbedded in it, a practice that this team strongly recommends future researchers in this area follow. In this case, there's a coded version of the names of the team members, a URL, and an e-mail address if you manage to decipher things.
Nothing about this process was trivial - the team apparently worked for months on just the last genomic transplantation step until things finally lined up right. But there's been a lot learned by this effort, and the next ones will be easier. I'm not sure if I call this a synthetic organism or not, since the cytoplasm (and all its machinery) was already there. But whatever it is, it sure has a synthetic genome, designed on a screen and built by machine. And it works, and more will surely follow. Will 2010, looking back, be the year that things changed?
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