'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists

Researchers in the US have developed the first synthetic living cell. Their work, which many scientists have called a landmark study, is a key step towards the design and creation of new living things. BBC News examines the issues raised by this controversial breakthrough.

Have these scientists created synthetic life?
They are calling this a synthetic living cell. But they did use an existing cell as a template and as a recipient for their home-made DNA. Strictly speaking, it is only the genome - the DNA in the cell - that is entirely synthetic.

This bacterial cell, the researchers say, is the first life form to be entirely controlled by synthetic DNA.

How a synthetic cell
was created

The scientists "decoded" the chromosome of an existing bacterial cell - using a computer to read each of the letters of genetic code.

They copied this code and chemically constructed a new synthetic chromosome, piecing together blocks of DNA.

The team inserted this chromosome into a bacterial cell which replicated itself. Synthetic bacteria might be used to make new fuels and drugs.
BACK 1 of 3 NEXT The researchers also employed "nature's tools" to build their new chromosome (the package of DNA that contains all of the genetic material the cell needs to live and function).

They chemically constructed blocks of DNA then inserted them into yeast cells, which assembled the blocks into a complete bacterial chromosome.

What will the scientists do with these synthetic bacteria?
These particular cells are just copies of existing or "wild type" bacteria. But they show that making a living cell with a synthetic chromosome is possible. Dr Craig Venter and his colleagues hope to use this technology to design new bacteria from scratch - cells that could carry out useful functions.


Meshack Maganga 2010
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