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article imageI am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer

By Chris V. Thangham     Oct 6, 2007 in Environment
Craig Venter, a US DNA researcher, claims he has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and soon will announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.
Craig Venter and his team of 20 scientists including the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, claim they have already constructed a synthetic chromosome for the first time in history. He will make the announcement in the coming weeks at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California.
Venter told The Guardian newspaper that this is an important landmark would be "a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before".
The team have stitched together a chromosome, a new DNA pattern that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.
The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up.
They have named this new chromosome as Mycoplasma laboratorium and have watermarked with inks for easy recognition.
The process works as follows, they will transplant this new chromosome into a living bacterial cell, and will supplant the host by taking control of the cell and become a new life form. The team says they have already done an experiment and proves this theory. Venter thinks that he can extend this to other organism cells as well.
The new life form will replicate itself but it depends on the host’s molecular structure, so it won’t be 100% artificial life, but the main DNA will be artificial and will control the cell and becomes the building block of new life.
Venter knows it will create controversy of creating new species but believes this will be a good science. He has patented this theory so others worry it will be another money making venture without considering the consequences and long term effects of such theory.
It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.
Pat Mooney, director of a Canadian bioethics organization, ETC group, is one of them that opposes Venter’s experiments. He said Venter was creating a "chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons".
Venter says this theory can be used for a variety of applications. One of them is to create bacteria that can mop up excessive carbon dioxide, thus helping the planet. Another one is to produce fuels such as butane or propane made entirely from sugars.
Venter says the ideas are radical and can’t expect everyone to be happy.
Maybe, the government can watch these guys and fully comply with safety regulations. I hope they turn out to be real and not profit mongers.
More about Creation, Artificial life, Gene pioneer
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