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Gene-Engineering
Scientists take step towards synthetic life

Washington, June 28
Scientists have taken a first step towards making synthetic life by transferring genetic material from one bacterium into another, transforming the second microbe into a copy of the first.

They intend to use their technique to custom-design bacteria to perform functions such as producing artificial fuel or cleaning up toxic waste, the researchers report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

“This is equivalent to changing a Macintosh computer to a PC by inserting a new piece of software,” Craig Venter, a genome pioneer who now heads his own institute in Rockville, Maryland, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“I think eventually we could make artificial cells,” Venter added. “This is a first step.”

Venter has been trying for years to create a microbe from scratch. This is not quite it, but his team re-programmed one species of bacteria by adding in the genetic material from a closely related species.

They gene-engineered the replacement chromosome to resist an antibiotic and then flooded their experiment with the drug.

The bacteria that survived all carried only the genes that had been spliced in.

They believe all the others simply died, but they are in fact not sure how the new DNA re-programmed some of the bacteria or what happened to the original DNA.

Venter’s team has applied for a patent on the process and they hope to exploit it industrially. — Reuters

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