There is a little doubt this is the biggest announcement we will see in the life sciences for a good few years. As such I felt it was important to mark – especially as my first degree, way back when, was actually in microbiology.
Scientists Create Synthetic Organism
Heralding a potential new era in biology, scientists for the first time have created a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions, researchers at the private J. Craig Venter Institute announced Thursday.
"We call it the first synthetic cell," said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. "These are very much real cells."
Created at a cost of $40 million, this experimental one-cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.
The development, documented in the peer-reviewed journal Science, may stir anew nagging questions of ethics, law and public safety about artificial life that biomedical experts have been debating for more than a decade.
"This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature," said molecular biologist Richard Ebright at Rutgers University, who wasn't involved in the project. "For the first time, someone has generated an entire artificial cell with predetermined properties."
David Magnus, director of the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, said, "It has the potential to transform genetic engineering. The research is going to explode."
Leery of previous moral and ethical debates about whether it is right to manipulate life forms—which arose with the advent of cloning, stem-cell technology and genetic engineering—some researchers chose neutral terms to describe the experimental cell. Some played down the development.
"I don't think it represents the creation of an artificial life form," said biomedical engineer James Collins at Boston University. "I view this as an organism with a synthetic genome, not as a synthetic organism. It is tough to draw where the line is."
The new cell, a bacterium, was conceived solely as a demonstration project. But several biologists said they believed that the laboratory technique used to birth it would soon be applied to other strains of bacteria with commercial potential.
Much more here:
I especially liked this comment from a Ken Carpenter.
“What makes a big part of this possible is the enormous increase in computing power over the last few years, and it's what will continue to make advances like this appear at a faster clip. The singularity approaches.”
Lots of stuff here if you want to follow up.
There is little doubt 20 years from now we won’t recognise much of biology, and possibly much of computing as well!