Researchers Say They Created a ‘Synthetic Cell’
The genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has taken another step in his quest to create synthetic life, by synthesizing an entire bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell.
Dr. Venter calls the result a “synthetic cell” and is presenting the research as a landmark achievement that will open the way to creating useful microbes from scratch to make products like vaccines and biofuels. At a press conference Thursday, Dr. Venter described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”
Dr. Venter’s aim is to achieve total control over a bacterium’s genome, first by synthesizing its DNA in a laboratory and then by designing a new genome stripped of many natural functions and equipped with new genes that govern production of useful chemicals.
The cost of the project was $40 million, most of it paid for by Synthetic Genomics, a company Dr. Venter founded.
But the bacterium used by the Venter group is unsuitable for biofuel production, and Dr. Venter said he would move to different organisms. Synthetic Genomics has a contract from Exxon to generate biofuels from algae. Exxon is prepared to spend up to $600 million if all its milestones are met. Dr. Venter said he would try to build “an entire algae genome so we can vary the 50 to 60 different parameters for algae growth to make superproductive organisms.”