[NetBehaviour] Creating first synthetic life form

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Thu Dec 22 16:14:45 CET 2005

Creating first synthetic life form


Work on the world's first human-made species is well under way at a 
research complex in Rockville, Md., and scientists in Canada have been 
quietly conducting experiments to help bring such a creature to life.

Robert Holt, head of sequencing for the Genome Science Centre at the 
University of British Columbia, is leading efforts at his Vancouver lab 
to play a key role in the production of the first synthetic life form -- 
a microbe made from scratch.

The project is being spearheaded by U.S. scientist Craig Venter, who 
gained fame in his former job as head of Celera Genomics, which 
completed a privately-owned map of the human genome in 2000.

Dr. Venter, 59, has since shifted his focus from determining the 
chemical sequences that encode life to trying to design and build it: 
"We're going from reading to writing the genetic code," he said in an 

The work is an extreme example of a burgeoning new field in science 
known as synthetic biology. It relies on advances in computer technology 
that permit the easy assembly of the chemical bits, known as 
nucleotides, that make up DNA.

Several scientific groups are trying to make genes that do not exist in 
nature, in hopes of constructing microbes that perform useful tasks, 
such as producing industrial chemicals, clean energy or drugs. Dr. 
Venter and his colleagues are pushing the technology to its limits by 
trying to put together an entirely synthetic genome.

"We have these genetic codes that we have been determining, so part of 
the proof [that they encode an organism] is reproducing the chromosome 
and seeing if it produces the same result," he said.


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