“Minimal cell raises stakes in race to harness synthetic life”. Really??

Genomics entrepreneur Craig Venter has created a synthetic cell that contains the smallest genome of any known, independent organism. Functioning with 473 genes, the cell is a milestone in his team’s 20-year quest to reduce life to its bare essentials and, by extension, to design life from scratch.

Venter, who has co-founded a company that seeks to harness synthetic cells for making industrial products, says that the feat heralds the creation of customized cells to make drugs, fuels and other products. But an explosion in powerful ‘gene-editing’ techniques, which enable relatively easy and selective tinkering with genomes, raises a niggling question: why go to the trouble of making new life when you can simply tweak what already exists?

Thomas Deerinck and Mark Ellisman/NCMIR/UCSD
Each cell of JCVI-syn3.0 contains just 473 genes, fewer than any other independent organism.
Unlike the first synthetic cells made in 20101, in which Venter’s team at the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, California, copied an existing bacterial genome and transplanted it into another cell, the genome of the minimal cells is like nothing in nature. Venter says that the cell, which is described in a paper released on 24 March in Science2, constitutes a brand new, artificial species.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.nature.com

So: JC Venter and team have stripped down a pre-existing organism to what appears to be the essential set of genes, added “watermarks” and inspirational quotes – and this is part of a race to harness synthetic life?  If so, they’re pretty much racing themselves, because precious few others are trying to do the same things.

And if you DID want to, why make a completely artificial cell genome?  Why not use tailored viruses?  It’s a great development, don’t get me wrong, but it is very much part of the “because we can” school of biology, rather than anything directed towards something as coherent as a race to harness synlife*.
* = I should TM that…B-)

See on Scoop.itVirology News

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2 Responses to ““Minimal cell raises stakes in race to harness synthetic life”. Really??”

  1. Fiona Tanzer Says:

    Erm… maybe it has more to do with “Because we can patent it” rather than “Because we can”…

    I don’t see too many folks asking – what happens if this minibug gets out? I presume that the team has added some suicide capability – but bacteria have a habit of acquiring things that don’t belong to them and my off-the-cuff suspicion is that a stripped-down bug will be under greater pressure to do a bit of gene larceny.

    One might argue that (presumably) little-bug doesn’t make pili or such (not sure of the minibug’s provenance) – but what about DNA acquisition “out there” by natural electroporation via “fringe-of-lightening” for example?

    Has the merry team tried out a “what if it escapes” evolution mock-up experiment? Them mini-bugs is very tiny – small enough to waft away on a microdroplet or two.

    Just saying…..

  2. HiljaE Says:

    Reblogged this on Hilja – mcb8906 and commented:
    Hahaha! Now to make sure I don’t fall into the “because we can” school of biology =D

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