View Full Version : Synthetic biology milestone reached

01-25-2008, 11:45 AM
Scientists have completely synthesized the genome of an organism.


Researchers have rebuilt an entire genome from scratch, they report online today in Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1151721). Although the team has yet to demonstrate that this DNA can substitute for the real thing, the work paves the way for customized bacteria that could efficiently produce drugs, biofuels, and other molecules useful to humankind.

Ever since his group decoded the genome of Mycoplasma genitalium, a parasitic bacterium that lives in the human urogenital tract, sequencing maverick J. Craig Venter has wanted to remake the bug's genome in the lab. At just under 600,000 bases, M. genitalium sports the smallest known genome for a free-living organism, and Venter hoped that an artificial genome could be modified to turn the bacterium into a living chemical-manufacturing plant.

Next step will be to get the DNA to actually start working inside the cell. At that point you can almost hear the geneticists' maniacal laughter as they stare into the microscope: "I pwn you, little one, I PWN you!"

Critics, such as the Canadian-based watchdog, ETC Group (http://www.etcgroup.org/), worry about accontability. (link) (http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=670)

ETC Group today renewed its call for a moratorium on the release and commercialization of synthetic organisms, asserting that societal debate on the oversight of synthetic biology is urgently overdue...

"Venter is claiming bragging rights to the world's longest length of synthetic DNA, but size isn't everything. The important question is not 'how long?', but 'how wise?'" says Jim Thomas of ETC Group.

"While synthetic biology is speeding ahead in the lab and in the marketplace, societal debate and regulatory oversight is stalled, and there has been no meaningful or inclusive discussion on how to govern synthetic biology in a safe and just way. In the absence of democratic oversight, profiteering industrialists are tinkering with the building blocks of life for their own private gain. We regard that as unacceptable."

Amazing, promising, terrifying...

Edit: Moving to Kavar's as this has fairly serious ethical and social ramifications.

01-25-2008, 02:09 PM
That is quite amazing. I wish i lived in my urogenital tract.

01-25-2008, 02:47 PM
Here is the 2007 report funded by the Sloan Foundation and co-authored by Michele S. Garfinkel of The J. Craig Venter Institute entitled Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance (http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/1721.1/39141/1/Synthetic%20Genomics%20Options%20for%20Governance. pdf).

Here is the ETC Group's response to it (http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=654).

01-25-2008, 03:04 PM
That's awesome.

01-25-2008, 03:32 PM
What is?

My post? Thanks.

01-25-2008, 07:35 PM

Think, about the powers of an engineered virus.

You get to be in NYC, with almost no one there but your doggie. And oh, zombies coming out at night. Well, or you can be in Racoon City running around in miniskirt.

On the good side, you can find a cure for many things, or ven enhance bodily functions, or pull an Akira.

Web Rider
01-25-2008, 07:49 PM
I do agree with the moratorium on the release of any of these things. They should NOT leave the laboratory until they have been tested hundreds of thousands of times under every possible situation thinkable.

however, this is still really awesome.

01-25-2008, 08:21 PM
Think, about the powers of an engineered virus.
Actually virii have already been replicated in a lab (back in 2002 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2122619.stm)). This is a bacteria. Bacteria are easier to breed than virii since you can just use petri dishes. Viruses are incapable of reproducing independently.

Bacteria are also more capable of exchanging genetic material via conjugation (direct cell-cell contact), transformation (uptaking of free DNA), and transduction (through virii). That means they have more methods of adapting.

Beyond just questioning the obvious dangers of bioterrorism and man-made plagues, we should also consider the ethics of owning a patent on a species.

John Galt
01-25-2008, 08:47 PM
Interesting. I look forward to seeing some practical applications.

01-25-2008, 10:50 PM
Very interesting indeed.

01-26-2008, 01:20 AM
With great power comes great responsibility. Let's hope the lurking Dr Frankensteins of the world are kept firmly in place. We do a pretty good job screwing up the world w/o synthetic help. Still, ya gotta start somewhere, so here's hoping that this ultimately leads to better things. Afterall, who wants to be a Luddite (it's such a deadend, nevermind the killjoy angle).

01-26-2008, 01:25 PM
Beyond just questioning the obvious dangers of bioterrorism and man-made plagues, we should also consider the ethics of owning a patent on a species.
It is all quite... ethical! *Hides Drow Hottie Love Slave™ Patents* :xp:

Web Rider
01-26-2008, 04:37 PM
Considering that medicine is patented, I imagine the world would find it quite ethical to patent a single-celled organism.

01-26-2008, 04:51 PM
How about a multicelled one?

01-26-2008, 06:43 PM
Hmmm, on one hand this can be a huge leap in science and medicine, on the other hand, however, the people doing that research need to be careful not to accidentally produce a bacteria that erases humanity from the face of the planet.

01-27-2008, 06:09 AM
How about a multicelled one?

As long as someone can't prove some kind of sentience, then the only protests would probably be over who qualified for the patent(s). ;)

Web Rider
01-27-2008, 02:51 PM
How about a multicelled one?

I would probly say that the world would find it OK up till you started patenting visible to the naked eye multi-celled creatures. You know, out of sight, out of mind.

01-28-2008, 03:55 AM
Sadly, when you look at what normally happens with things like this, The military will get their hands on it first. They will develop very scary and very dangerous things with this. All I can think of is, We are the only country in the world to have used a nuclear device on another country. That should give you my reasons for not liking this news.

01-28-2008, 11:58 AM
Well, now little girls can be little princesses with their invisible pink unicorns for real.