Booting up synthetic cell / genome: 2010 Science story of the year

Craig Venter
Image by AJC1 via Flickr

This post will not do much directly for your brain health other than at plopping an interesting idea into it, which is good for it.

In early 2009 I wrote a piece predicting that in 2009 Craig Venter would be the first to boot up a synthetic genome.

“Rebooting a synthetic genome – think of what that really means. “Printing” off of a genome of whatever combination of genes, or even newly invented/tweaked genes, then taking that DNA and inserting it into an inert empty lipid bilayer of a cell and booting up the cell into a living organism.”

I was a few months off because he didn’t get this accomplished until early 2010. Well at least the paper did not get published until May 2010, which would suggest that he got this accomplished in 2009 as I predicted.

Here is a bit of the history of the build up to this biological milestone from my previous post:

“In a 2007 Science paper the Venter group fully replaced the whole genome of DNA from one bacterial species with another (Lartigue et al., 2008). The title of the paper is: “Genome transplantation in bacteria: changing once species to another.” They are calling this ‘genome transplantation’ and the recipient bacteria takes on the genotype and phenotype of the transplanted genome.

Now the above paper is just one more step in what I presume the long term goal of Venter et. al., In 2008 the Venter group reported in another Science paper the outstanding ability to ‘print’ out an entire genome (albeit relatively small) and placing the complete printed genome into a cell.

As mentioned in several of Venter’s recent presentations (TED conference video – see below at about the 18:00 minute mark – but don’t forget about the BIL conference) all that is left to do is ‘boot’ up the new cell/organism.”

And this final step: the booting up of a new cell/organism was accomplished and reported in early 2010. Therefore, I would deem this the science story of the year (though there are several other strong contenders).

Recently this story and a profile of the man behind it, Craig Venter, was featured in a 60 minute segment that is shown below. Check it out – it will stimulate your brain.;photovideo

He talks in the video about using this technique to build quicker vaccines and help the global warming problem.

But you need to really think what these scientist are doing here – this is what I wrote in my previous post:

“Now this first might not quite strike the amazement in you the way it did me – so let me explain (as Venter also does). Think about the near future and we have many many organisms DNA sequences stored away in databases. Not the actual DNA but just a sequence of 1s and 0s representing the DNA code (A, T, C, G) just as you would think of any other pieces of information stored on your computer or the internet cloud (be they pictures of your grandmother, love letters, or the complete works of Shakespeare). Now without any wet lab genetic manipulation but just the day to day editing all of us do on our computers (be it word processing, picture processing, emails, or computer programming) you now could ‘edit’ various pieces of genetic code from numerous diverse organisms and ‘compile’ a complete genome – a complete organism (sure some easy editing tools that also does some rudimentary check for viability would be helpful). And after you have your newly edited, digitized, DNA sequence composed of a string of 1s and 0s in some electrical memory format you press a button to send it to the ‘printer’. The DNA sequence printer then goes to work to build your exact DNA sequence in real life A, T, C, G code. You could then next take your DNA sequence and inject your naked DNA into an empty cell (no DNA code). The big question is would it ‘boot up’ and become alive – Venter would say yes of course it will.

Now he has demonstrated the cell will boot up, and does become alive !

And now it is reported that Venter is working on booting up a higher organism – a mouse – using the same ‘booting up’ technique. A potential top science story of 2011?