News / Science & Technology

    Scientists Control Cell With Synthetic Genome

    Jessica Berman

    In a groundbreaking achievement, scientists have created an artificial genome capable of controlling and replicating a living cell.  Researchers say the breakthrough paves the way for specially engineered bacteria to that can help solve a wide range of environmental, energy and human health problems.  

    Using laboratory chemicals, scientists have produced what they are calling the world's first "synthetic cell."

    The groundbreaking work was led by geneticist J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland. "We are here today to announce the first synthetic cell -- a cell made by starting with the digital code in the computer, building the chromosome from four bottles of chemicals, assembling that chromosome in yeast, transplanting it into a recipient bacterial cell and transforming that cell into a new bacterial species," he said.

    Venter says researchers investigating the genetic foundations of life came up with the idea of manufacturing a bacterial chromosome 15 years ago.  

    Scientists pieced together the genetic material of the bacterium M. mycoides by inserting short strands into yeast that used its repair enzymes to stitch the DNA into one long string of genetic material.

    It took three such insertions to assemble the M. mycoides genome, which scientists then transferred into a second bacterium called Mycoplasm capricolum.  Researchers say the transplanted DNA began functioning as a normal genome within M. capricolum, directing the production of M. mycoides proteins and conferring new, M. mycoides properties to the host bacterium.

    In order to distinguish their synthetic genome from a natural one, Venter says researchers inserted "watermarks" into the new genetic code.  These included three famous quotations, letters spelling out the names of each of the project's 46 different contributors. "And we also built in a website address so that if somebody decodes the code within the code within the code, they can send an email to that address.  So it's clearly distinguishable from any other species," he said.

    Now that they have shown it is possible to control a cell with a synthetic genome, researchers say they will try to use the technology to solve complex environmental and energy problems.  For example, Venter says his institute has partnered with the petroleum company ExxonMobil to develop new strains of algae that can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from concentrated sources, like the ocean, to make hydrocarbons that can go into their refineries to make carbon-neutral gasoline and diesel fuel.

    In the medical field, Venter says, the technology might allow scientists to make vaccines in a matter of days instead of months. "We think these tools can affect vaccines to diseases that haven't been possible to date - things where the viruses rapidly evolve, such with rhinovirus.  Wouldn't it be nice to have something that actually blocked common colds?  Or more importantly, HIV where the virus evolves so quickly - the vaccines that are made today can't keep up with those evolutionary changes," he said.

    In a series of commentaries in the journal Nature, scientists from a variety of disciplines and institutions hailed the creation of a synthetic genome as an important, historic advance in biology.  But many noted that the accomplishment does not represent the creation of new life because the synthetically modified cell is made up primarily of natural genetic structures.

    The paper by Craig Venter and his colleagues on their creation of the first synthetic genome is published this week in the journal Science.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.