May 21, 2010 in Nation/World

Lab produces artifically created cell

Scientist calls feat ‘the dawn of synthetic genomics’
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – In a major step toward the creation of artificial life, researchers announced Thursday that they had inserted DNA synthesized in a laboratory into the nucleus of a living cell that had been stripped of its own DNA, obtaining a functioning semi-synthetic microorganism.

The artificially created cell – a bacterium – did not have any unusual characteristics, because the inserted DNA was a chemical copy of an existing genome. But the feat showed that synthesizing a genome and having it control a cell can be done, paving the way for the creation of microbes with specialized properties that could be of great value to industry.

Molecular biologist J. Craig Venter, the primary author of the report detailing the findings, described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

Other scientists were similarly enthusiastic. “This is a tour de force and a landmark paper … that is akin to Jurassic Park or Frankenstein,” said Dr. Anthony C. Forster, a molecular biologist at Vanderbilt University who is an expert in the field of artificial life forms. “I think it will probably be regarded as the dawn of synthetic genomics.”

Although most scientists overwhelmingly praised the achievement, reported online by the journal Science, some environmental groups warned against unforeseen consequences. Friends of the Earth called on governmental agencies to begin regulating synthetic biology experiments.

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