The scientific team headed by Drs. Craig Venter, Hamilton Smith and Clyde Hutchison have achieved the final step in their quest to create the first synthetic bacterial cell. In a publication in Science magazine, Daniel Gibson, Ph.D. and a team of 23 additional researchers outline the steps to synthesize a 1.08 million base pair Mycoplasma mycoides genome, constructed from four bottles of chemicals that make up DNA. This synthetic genome has been "booted up" in a cell to create the first cell controlled completely by a synthetic genome.
A Hastings Center (Garrison NY) workshop examining moral issues in synthetic biology completed its third meeting as the J. Craig Venter Group announced that it had created the first viable cell with a synthetic genome.
“Synthetic biology certainly raises deep philosophical and moral questions about the human relationship to nature,” according to Gregory Kaebnick, a Hastings Center scholar who is managing the project. “It’s not clear what the answers to those questions are. If by ‘nature’ we mean the world around us, more or less as we found it, we may well decide that synthetic biology does not really change the human relationship to nature—and may even help us preserve what is left of it.”
Nor is it clear that the questions raised by synthetic biology are new ones. According to Thomas H. Murray, president of The Hastings Center and the project’s principal investigator, “We have come up against similar problems in other domains—most notably, in work on nanotechnology and gene transfer technology—but synthetic biology poses them especially sharply and pressingly.”
M. mycoides JCVI-syn1. Freshly fixed cells were stained using 1% uranyl acetate on pure carbon substrate visualized using JEOL 1200EX transmission electron microscope at 80 keV.
The Hastings Center has been at the forefront of interdisciplinary research into ethical issues in emerging technology. The synthetic biology project is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation . Project participants include synthetic biologists, bioethicists, philosophers, and public policy experts. The Center’s work is part of a comprehensive look at synthetic biology by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Other participants in the initiative are the J. Craig Venter Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The assembly of a synthetic M. mycoides genome in yeast.