Thursday, January 24, 2008

"It's the first synthetic bacterial chromosome"

Or so said Craig Venter, as reported in today's Washington Post:

Md. Scientists Create Full Chromosome of Synthetic DNA

By Rick Weiss

Scientists in Maryland today said they had built from scratch an entire microbial chromosome, a loop of synthetic DNA carrying all the instructions that a simple cell needs to live and reproduce.

The feat marks the first time that anyone has made such a large strand of hereditary material from off-the-shelf chemical ingredients. Previous efforts had yielded DNA strands less than one-twentieth the size, and those pieces lacked many of the key biological programs that tell a cell how to stay alive.

On the basis of earlier experiments, the researchers believe the new, full-length loop would spontaneously "boot up" inside a cell, just as a downloaded operating system can awaken a computer -- a potentially historic event that would amount to the creation of the first truly artificial life form.

Team members emphasized that they have not done that yet but expressed confidence that they would do so before the end of the year.


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