Friday, August 28, 2009

Artificial life is only months away

From The Times
August 21, 2009
Artificial life is only months away, says biologist Craig Venter
Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Artificial life will be created within four months, a controversial scientist has predicted. Craig Venter, who led a private project to sequence the human genome, told The Times that his team had cleared a critical hurdle to creating man-made organisms in a laboratory.

“Assuming we don’t make any errors, I think it should work and we should have the first synthetic species by the end of the year,” he said.

Dr Venter, who has been chasing his goal for a decade, is already working on projects to use synthetic biology to create bacteria that transform coal into cleaner natural gas, and algae that soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into hydrocarbon fuels. Other potential applications include new ways of manufacturing medicines and vaccines.

Dr Venter’s prediction came after scientists at his J. Craig Venter Institute, in Rockville, Maryland, announced that they had developed a new method of transplanting DNA into bacteria, promising to solve a problem that has held up the artificial life project for two years.

The team took the first step in 2007 by implanting the genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma mycoides, into cells belonging to a close relative, Mycoplasma capricolum. This transformed the host bacteria into Mycoplasma mycoides.

Last January the team built a bacterium’s entire genetic code from scratch. The next step was to transfer this synthetic genome into a host cell, using the 2007 transplant technique, to “reboot” it with genetic instructions written by humans. This has failed so far because the synthetic genome will not work when it is transplanted into host cells.

The new research, published in Science, has identified the probable reason for this failure and developed a new approach that should address it.

Natural bacterial genomes, such as the one that was successfully transplanted, are chemically modified by a process called methylation. When they are inserted into other cells this process appears to protect them against chemicals called restriction enzymes, which defend against viruses.

The synthetic genome, however, is not methylated, as it has to be grown in yeast, which does not provide the necessary chemical modifications, thus leaving it open to attack by the restriction enzymes.

In the new study, the Venter team grew the natural M. mycoides genome in yeast, under similar conditions to the synthetic genome, so that it had no methylation. These genomes failed to take when they were transplanted into host cells.

The team then remethylated the M. mycoides genome in the laboratory before placing it into the host cell. This time the transplants worked and the cells were rebooted as M. mycoides.

The success suggests that methylating the synthetic genome before transfer should allow it to take over host cells and reboot them with its DNA. Experiments in this have now begun.

Methylation should protect the synthetic genome against the host cells’ defences, much as drugs that suppress the immune system protect transplanted organs against rejection.

Hamilton Smith, a Nobel laureate who is another leader of the research, said: “I believe this work has important implications in better understanding the fundamentals of biology to enable the final stages of our work in creating and booting up a synthetic genome. This is possibly one of the most important new findings in the field of synthetic genomics.”

Dr Venter said the research was particularly important because it opened the door to altering algae and bacteria to perform useful functions.

“This could be one of the most powerful tools in biology,” he said.

1 comment:

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Life is not artificial even if it is man made in lab conditions.

Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.


‘In Scientific Terminology Source of Gravitational Wave is God’ I have presented this paper at the 2nd World Congress on Vedic Sciences held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi on February 9-11, 2007.