For the first time, scientists have created an organism controlled by man-made DNA.
On Thursday, Craig Venter (photo, from aljazeera.net), an American biologist, announced during a press conference that he had synthesised an artificial strain of DNA and used it in order to take control of a cell.
“[It’s] the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” Venter said. “This is a philosophical advance as much as a technical one.”
With his colleagues, Venter modified the DNA of a Mycoplasma, a kind of bacteria, creating a final strand composed of roughly one million “base pairs,” the components that make up DNA.
By comparison, the human genome contains more than three billion base pairs.
Then the synthetic DNA was injected by the scientists into another Mycoplasma bacterium, which had already had its DNA removed.
The bacterium began to grow and reproduce, though some of the synthesized genes didn’t work properly.
Venter now hopes that the technology could eventually be used to make new and less expensive vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs and biofuels.
And Venter’s company was awarded a contract by the energy giant Exxon. The contract is worth up to $600m and the aim is to use the technologie to generate biofuels from algae.
In the past, a similar research has been conducted : scientists have constructed viruses using synthesised DNA.
However, Venter’s work is the first to replicate such a long strain of DNA.
Concerned about the widespread adoption of biofuels, environmental groups are wary of the synthetic DNA.
In a statement, Friends of the Earth called it “dangerous new technology”.
US president Barack Obama asked his bioethics council to study the potential ethical implications of artificial DNA.