Scientists Create First Cell Controlled by Synthetic Genome

The Mycoplasma bacteria grew and reproduced, but that was about all. Within several years however, Venter, along with dozens of other researchers and companies, hope to create more exciting bacteria that will speed up the production and drive down the costs of biofuels, vaccines and drugs.

Venter has teamed up with a major oil and gas company, and a pharmaceutical company, to help realize these goals.

Venter's work falls into a nascent field of science known as synthetic biology. Synthetic biology builds on the decades-old field of genetic engineering. Unlike genetic engineering, where scientists introduce a handful of new genes into an organism, synthetic biology aims to reprogram entire organisms, including bacteria and viruses.

A Step on the Way to Artificial Life?

The creation and insertion of a synthetic genome more than one million base pairs is a technical landmark, said Frances Arnold, a synthetic biologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He says the feat showcases scientists' ability to precisely manipulate long sections of DNA.

But before consumers see any benefit several significant hurdles have to be solved. One of the biggest problems is that scientists are still searching for the specific genetic code to produce cheap drugs, biofuel and other products.

"We can write anything we want," said Arnold. "The problem is that we don't know what to write."

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