Craig Venter’s genome transplant

J. Craig Venter and colleagues from his self-named institute have a paper in Science Express today describing the first “genome transplant.” They replaced the entire DNA of one bacteria, Mycoplasma mycoides, with that from another, Mycoplasma capricolum. The transplanted DNA was stripped of most supporting proteins, so it was effectively “naked DNA.”

The experiment is the first step towards Venter’s goal of creating an artificial organism, by making the DNA in the lab and assembling it in a bacterium.

Jonathan Eisen of the UC Davis Genome Center told the Associated Press that this would be much harder to do with a truly synthetic organism, but “it’s a great first step.”

Eisen posts some more detailed thoughts on his blog, the Tree of Life. Excerpt:

One of the big limitations of synthetic biology right now is how one would make a genome in vitro of a bacteria and then get this genome to “boot up” into a cell. For viruses, they can make genomes in the test tube and get the virus to be created because viruses are cellular parasites and all they have to do is get the DNA for the virus to be packaged in the right way into a cell or viral capsid. But for a bacteria, things are much different. The challenge has been how to get a recipient cell to boot up a new genome and delete its own or at least silence its own. And without going into all the gory details, this has proven challenging.

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