The Creation of Synthetic Life

Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced in Science that they created an experimental one-cell organism, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0, that has the ability to reproduce.

An article written in the Wall Street Journal discusses the process used to create the cell:

To begin, they wrote out the creature’s entire genetic code as a digital computer file, documenting more than one million base pairs of DNA in a biochemical alphabet of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. They edited that file, adding new code, and then sent that electronic data to a DNA sequencing company called Blue Heron Bio in Bothell, Wash., where it was transformed into hundreds of small pieces of chemical DNA, they reported.

To assemble the strips of DNA, the researchers said they took advantage of the natural capacities of yeast and other bacteria to meld genes and chromosomes in order to stitch those short sequences into ever-longer fragments until they had assembled the complete genome, as the entire set of an organism’s genetic instructions is called.

They transplanted that master set of genes into an emptied cell, where it converted the cell into a different species”

It may be possible for this new field, called synthetic biology, to one day provide alternatives to standard practices in many different industries. For example, the industrial life forms can be used to produce renewable fuels as well as vaccines.

This development also raises questions about concerning the ethics, law and public safety of artificial life. So I ask you all, what are some specific issues do you see needing to be addressed concerning synthetic life?

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