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A “holy crap” moment

May 20, 2010

Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor (see article). Pedants may quibble that only the DNA of the new beast was actually manufactured in a laboratory; the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff. Nevertheless, a Rubicon has been crossed. It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually, new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order.

More here.  Yes it’s only bacteria, and yes it was merely a reconstituted, already existing genome – the argument over whether this act constitutes creating life will be one for the philosophers.  But what is important is the development of a platform for creating organisms with custom-made genomes.  Instead of laboriously inserting genes one by one via plasmid recombination, we can now create a bacterium with any combination of genes we choose – provided of course that they can survive.  Genomics research will get a big boost, potentially followed by a lower barrier to entry for DIY genomics hobbyists.  This is a Big Deal.

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