American Scientists Create Life In a Lab
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21 May 2010
By Chidanand Rajghatta
A team of scientists in the US, including three researchers of Indian origin, has created life in the laboratory. In a profound–and some would say provocative–work, the 24–member team at the privately–held J Craig Venter Institute has created bacterial cells that are completely controlled by genes manufactured in the lab. The cells can multiply.
The successful construction of the first self–replicating bacterial cells opens the way for making and manipulating life on a previously unattainable scale, calling into question the basic assumptions of creation.
Previously, scientists have altered and manipulated DNA piecemeal to produce a variety of genetically–engineered plants and animals. But the ability to artificially design an entire genome–the ’book of life’ that controls an organism’s functions–puts a different spin on the meaning of terms such as creation, evolution and life.
The J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), which is a not–for–profit genomic research organization based in Rockville and in San Diego did not say when exactly its team synthesized the 1.08 million base pair chromosomes of a modified Mycoplasma mycoides, a parasite bacteria that lives in cattle and goats. But it said the synthetic cell, called Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI–syn1.0, "is the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new selfreplicating cell controlled only by the synthetic genome’’.
The most remarkable thing about the synthetic cell, a JCVI scientist explained, is that its "genome was brought to life through chemical synthesis, without using any pieces of natural DNA’’.
The implications of the breakthrough was not lost on the founder of the institute, J Craig Venter, the maverick American biologist and entrepreneur who is most famous for his role in sequencing one of the first human genomes. "We have been consumed by this research, but we have also been equally focused on addressing the societal implications of what we believe will be one of the most powerful technologies and industrial drivers for societal good. We look forward to continued review and dialogue about the important applications of this work to ensure that it is used for the benefit of all,’’ he said in a statement.
The 24–member team includes three scientists of Indian origin–Sanjay Vashee, Radha Krishnakumar and Prashanth P Parmar. The first synthetic cell did not come cheap or easy. The process of constructing and booting up the cell took nearly 15 years and cost upwards of $30 million, the institute said.