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Craig Venter, I am creating artificial life.

PostPosted: 28 Oct 2008
by Raelian DOTCOM
I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer
· Scientist has made synthetic chromosome
· Breakthrough could combat global warming

Source: The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk), Saturday October 6 2007

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be "a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before".

The Guardian can reveal that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Mr Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.

The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

Mr Venter said he had carried out an ethical review before completing the experiment. "We feel that this is good science," he said. He has further heightened the controversy surrounding his potential breakthrough by applying for a patent for the synthetic bacterium.

Pat Mooney, director of a Canadian bioethics organisation, ETC group, said the move was an enormous challenge to society to debate the risks involved. "Governments, and society in general, is way behind the ball. This is a wake-up call - what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube?"

He said Mr Venter was creating a "chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons".

Mr Venter believes designer genomes have enormous positive potential if properly regulated. In the long-term, he hopes they could lead to alternative energy sources previously unthinkable. Bacteria could be created, he speculates, that could help mop up excessive carbon dioxide, thus contributing to the solution to global warming, or produce fuels such as butane or propane made entirely from sugar.

"We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking," he said. "We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can't expect everybody to be happy."

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Craig Venter claims of creating new artificial life
Sanjay, 08 October 2007, Monday

Source: http://www.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=126844

Humanity is standing on the edge of another breakthrough. The creation of a synthetic chromosome would revolutionise bioengineering, to help deal with climate change or provide alternative energy sources. But are we ready for artificial life forms?


J CRAIG VENTER, who once contended with the United States government and led the private effort to map the human genome, is back in newspaper headlines again.

Craig Venter, a controversial DNA scientist, has claimed that his team has constructed a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to declare the creation of the first artificial life form on planet Earth. Undisputedly, if Venter and his team deliver on his bold promise, they will be credited with the breakthrough of creating an almost completely new life form for the first time. Researchers hope that the discovery will contribute to developments in bioengineering, to help deal with climate change or provide alternative energy sources. Venter said that creating the new life form would be ’a very important philosophical step in the history of our species.’ This discovery will be a giant step forward in the development of designer genomes.

A team of 20 top scientists chaired by the Nobel honouree Hamilton Smith, has constructed a synthetic chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code, using lab-made chemicals at the J Craig Venter Institute. It will be then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process, it is anticipated to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form.

The new life form will depend on its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been shot, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

To get a sense of what this really means, think of the genome as a book - a blueprint - that comprises of details of what each individual ought to be like. Now, each genome contains one or several chromosomes - which is a long chain of DNA that ‘tells’ the cell what kind it is, what to do and when. Each chromosome contains several genes-specific and unique stories told by each chapter. DNA is composed of sugar, phosphate and different combination of four nitrogen bases - Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Thiamine (T) and Cytosine (C).

⇒ Genome ⇒ Chromosomes ⇒ Genes ⇒ DNA ⇒ Nitrogenous base

Venter, a Vietnam veteran and a yachtsman, believes designer genomes have enormous positive potential if ‘properly’ regulated. In the long-term, he hopes they could lead to alternative energy sources previously unimaginable. Bacteria could be created, he theorises, that could help clear up excessive carbon dioxide, thus contributing to the solution to global warming, or produce fuels such as butane or propane made entirely from sugar.

But surprisingly, he failed to discuss the negative effects of this kind of research. He didn’t discuss the effect of human intervention in the natural process of life creation. He didn’t discuss that what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube and what would be the reverse effect of replacing the entire genetic code of one microbe with that of another.

No doubt, this is a groundbreaking work that must be done with the proper governance. To say that it is immoral or to try to block would be inappropriate .The key here is right regulation and transparency. If these criteria can be achieved then there is much to be gained.

Venter’s genome-swapping technique is, without question, the most morally challenging issue faced by man since scientists first split up the atom. Although Venter’s goal of creating new species of life holds great promise, of making life on this planet much easier and much more pleasurable for everyone. But if the power to create new life forms is not responsibly managed or worst, then it will be the worst imaginable nightmare for humankind. So I am not sure that it is a wholly ‘good science’, as claimed by Venter and this genome-swapping technique should be rigorously debated.