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Synthetic Genome Drives Bacterial Cell

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the sharpen-your-pitchforks dept.

Biotech 174

Dr. Eggman writes "Physorg.com brings us news of a synthetic genome, produced by the J. Craig Venter Institute, being used in an existing bacterial cell for the first time. Using a combination of biological hosts, the technique produces short strings of DNA by machine which are then inserted into yeast to be stitched together via DNA-repair enzymes. The medium sequences are passed into E. coli and back into yeast. After three rounds, a genome of three million base pairs was produced." (More below.)"Specifically, the genome of M. mycoides was synthesized from scratch. This synthetic genome was then inserted into the cells of a bacteria known as Mycoplasm capricolum. The result is a cell, driven by a synthetic genome, producing not the proteins of Mycoplasm capricolum, but of M. mycoides. The institute has far-reaching plans for its synthetic life program, including designing algae that can capture carbon dioxide, make new hydrocarbons for refineries, make new chemicals or food ingredients, and speed up vaccine production." The BBC has coverage of the hybrid cell as well.

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What... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283402)

.... could possibly go wrong?

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

Creedo (548980) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283526)

Obvious troll, but I'll bite. How is this any different than the rampant and completely unsupervised genetic twiddling that has been happening in nature for the last few billion years?

Re:What... (1, Insightful)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283580)

Shall we ask Monsanto?

Re:What... (4, Interesting)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284528)

This is funny because I just bought The Windup Girl [wikipedia.org] today, which takes a future Monsanto controlled dystopian future to an extreme. A little depressing, but a good read.

But the funny part is that Monsanto would welcome any sort of biological catastrophe, as they're the only ones that would be capable of fighting it. Kind of like how my paranoid father thinks the majority of viruses are produced by Norton and McCafee on the side just to stir up business, Monsanto could produce a better fungus to drive up business.

Evil, malicious, and a wonton disregard for human suffering, but massively profitable.

Re:What... (2, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283604)

This sounds exactly like Jurassic Park, except replace Dinosaurs with Yeast and Frogs with E. Coli.

Need I explain what happens next?

You forgot the quote (1)

rutledjw (447990) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284056)

God creates dinosaurs.
God destroys dinosaurs.
God creates man.
Man destroys God.
Man creates dinosaurs...

Re:What... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285572)

Humans create microbial park which goes horribly wrong, causing untold havoc as artificial E. Coli stalks innocent humans in the jungles of Mexico causing uncontrollable diarrhea.
No, wait...

Re:What... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285840)

This sounds exactly like Jurassic Park, except replace Dinosaurs with Yeast and Frogs with E. Coli.

Need I explain what happens next?

Newman steals the bacteria (WHICH IS NOT E.COLI FYI!!!) and then a velociraptor eats Samuel L Jackson?

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283660)

Obvious troll, but I'll bite. How is this any different than the rampant and completely unsupervised genetic twiddling that has been happening in nature for the last few billion years?


"This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind]," he said.

Perhaps there is a difference between random changes directed solely to furthering of DNA propagation ...

and the short term goals of greedy men?


Re:What... (2, Insightful)

virtualXTC (609488) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283796)


People use to say the same thing about computers... and still do about robots. The question a rational person asks is "what is the risk vs possible return."

Re:What... (4, Insightful)

redbeardcanada (1052028) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284040)

Damn straight - we need these bio-engineered life forms to protect us from the robots when they finally make their move...

That's what you meant by risk vs. return right?

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

asukasoryu (1804858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284114)

The question a rational person asks is "what is the risk vs possible return."

The typical American asks "What is the possible return" and ignores the risk in pursuit of personal gain.

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284436)

Oh come on, the likely hood of an oil spill in the gulf is 1/10,000. Do we really want to block drilling based on the 1/10,000 chance of a 200 million barrel leak that could kill all life in the gulf and do substantial damage to most of the eastern seaboard and destroy the fishing industry in four states and potentially do a lot of damage to the atlantic ocean and carribean as well? Be reasonable.

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284452)

The typical American asks "What is the possible return" and ignores the risk in pursuit of personal gain.

Given the amount of Luddism that is invariably displayed with respect to genetic engineering, I'd say that in this particular case the reverse is true. There's a level of ignorance driven fear on this topic that I haven't seen since the days when a lot of people genuinely believed that computers were malevolent "thinking machines" that would try to take the world away from their human creators.

Re:What... (2, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284324)

We wish the programmer of the Therac-25 HAD asked himself whatcouldpossiblygowrong.

At the same time, just like with computers, there are many potential benefits to be had. Perhaps more than computers. Of course, computers aren't free to roam the earth, multiply, and then colonize our bodies, so we need to make really sure the right questions are asked.

This particular research was reasonably well thought out and probably couldn't produce anything viable that can't be produced through random mutation anyway. For some of the more advanced work coming up, it should probably be combined with some of the research already done on producing "kill switches", generally creating a dependence on something not available in the wild.

Re:What... (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285590)

I don't think a kill switch is the right answer, I'm more in favor of creating a dependence. Design the things to require an amino acid not to be found in the wild, and don't design any of them to make it. I believe that there are only around 20 amino acids that exist in the natural world, but it would be easy enough to synthesize an additional one through normal chemical processes. (Use one of the 20 as a starter, and add a new side chain, e.g. Possibly one incorporating iron or cobalt. Things that are common enough to be cheap to create, yet not a part of the normal requirements. [Yeah, blood uses iron and B-12 uses cobalt. That's how I can be certain that the compounds could be bio-compatible. But those are rare occurrences.])

With this kind of requirement, even if they did get loose, it would be possible to wipe them out of an area without damaging unmodified life.

Re:What... (2, Interesting)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285058)

Computers and robots can't reproduce without our help. The same criticism (whatcouldpossiblygowrong) would hold when they can.

Re:What... (4, Interesting)

bcmm (768152) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283720)

Obvious troll, but I'll bite. How is this any different than the rampant and completely unsupervised genetic twiddling that has been happening in nature for the last few billion years?

The genome was produced by machine (from a digital copy of a sequenced genome). Presumably, if somebody wrote a brand new genome, it could be inserted into a living organism by the same procedure.

I guess we can now start finding out which genes are really necessary for an organism to function...

(I am not a biologist.)

Re:What... (1)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283728)

Not a troll. "What could possibly go wrong" is a common meme used here at Slashdot for any sort of experiment with even the slightest possibility of catastrophic, world ending consequences. We've all seen the movies where the genetically engineered thingy eats everyone, so it's funny, not a troll. It does not generally indicate that the writer even believes something will go wrong.

Now, that being said, selective breeding is not the same thing as genetic engineering. Not that I really think this sort of work will cause problems, but that is because I generally trust these scientists to know a bit more about the real dangers than we do, not because genetic engineering is anything like selective breeding or unsupervised evolution. A beaver damn is like hoover damn, but I don't think the first is as potentially dangerous as the second if they both sprung a leak.

How is this different: let me count the ways (2, Insightful)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284402)

It's different for a a lot of reasons. I'll just focus on three. The bio-weapon fear: the viruses and bacteria that we harbor have co-evolved with us. Viruses and bacteria shape evolution in a myriad of subtle ways but one way to look at even the most pathogenic forms is that their habitat is you and me. So despite the suffering inflicted by TB, Ebola, HIV etc. fundamentally it is not in the best interest of the microbe to cause the extinction of its habitat -- although it probably happens. The bio-weapon fear is that pathogens can now be created whose long term interest is not in the "cruel but fair" hands of Darwinian Evolution but in the possibly malevolent (or hopefully beneficent) hands of a bona-fide "CREATOR/DESTROYER". Let's hope Venter is nice. The second: the lateral gene transfer mechanism has been shown to play a role on evolution. However now it is possible to accelerate this "artificial sex" to rates that far exceed the norm. Plant-Animal hybrids here we come -- and let's use our imagination. Plant a seed, up grows the plant, a flower fruits, a butterfly emerges which lays -- seeds. Pretty kewl huh. Three: Genetic twiddling -- there are some parts of the cell that evolution just doesn't take a chance in messing around with. It is now possible to mess around.
My two cents: weeds win...the reason algae for fuel doesn't work is weeds. If you go to Indiana you don't see the Monsanto soybeans growing wild in a ditch. And there are no wild packs of Shih Tzus. I'm not sharpening the pitchfork yet.

Re:How is this different: let me count the ways (2, Informative)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285810)

If you go to Indiana you don't see the Monsanto soybeans growing wild in a ditch.

That's because Monsanto seeds are sterile. You can't simply buy once and plant some of the seeds from that crop, you have to buy from Monsanto each year. Seriously, this is basic bio-tech information from the 90's.

Re:What... (2, Interesting)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285014)

1. It would be directed, allowing it to create things that evolution just wouldn't.
2. Nature doesn't have a great track record itself so adding yet more adds more risk. I'm sure all the life that did exist before cyanobacteria evolved and killed everything else buy spewing out toxic oxygen would have prefered a bit less unsupervised genetic twidling...

But don't get me wrong, I think this is great stuff and we should keep on doing it.

Re:What... (1)

asukasoryu (1804858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283778)

Next we create the neo-sapien race to perform our labor. Genetically superior to humans, but unhappy with their sub-human status, they rise against us and we have to use our exo-frames to squash the rebellion. Who's old enough to remember that?

Re:What... (1)

Orga (1720130) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283856)

Don't forget the help of the token traitor to their race who assists the humans :P I watched pretty much all of the show when I was younger and am reminded of it now and then by articles like this.

Re:What... (1)

cthulu_mt (1124113) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283990)

You can watch it on Hulu now. Held up suprisingly well over time.

Re:What... (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284230)

Holy crap? Hulu? I thought it was only available on laser disc? I have a set of laser disc rips from a hell of a long time ago, but the audio was screwed up in half the episodes.

It was my favorite cartoon when I was young. It was pretty edgy back then, the only cartoon that even attempted to deal with things like death and emotion.

Take that, IDers! (3, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283454)

I don't know how many times I've heard the young earth creationists and intelligent designers say that since man can't make life, life must be special. Dear FSM, I wish I could send this article to all those IDiots on all the message boards to which I've posted over the years.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

Creedo (548980) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283498)

You think this will stop them? The same old stupid arguments are already popping up. ID proponents are amazingly dense as a whole.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283510)

Due to a failsafe in the universe, if I were to get a girl pregnant the universe would cease to exist; however, due to a basic property of quantum mechanics, the probability of that happening is zero. Since a universe in which that outcome occurs cannot continue to exist, that outcome cannot occur; the universe continues to exist in the opposite state.

Re:Take that, IDers! (4, Insightful)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283528)

Not that I disagree with your sentiments when it comes to ID proponents (they're morons) but I don't think this really counts as "making life." Not yet, anyway. It's a step in that direction, though.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283954)

Yeah, but it's hard to argue that it will never happen now.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284270)

Yeah, but it's hard to argue that it will never happen now.


Now, whether that's a good thing or not is somewhat debatable. I can come up with arguments on both sides of that one.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1, Insightful)

Anomalyx (1731404) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283782)

Umm.. yeah, this is a far cry from creating life

I may be a young-earth creationist, but arguing the concept to anyone who only wants to push their own view is 99% of the time pointless, so I won't elaborate any further besides just saying that modifying an existing life form (that's all this is, really) doesn't count as "creating life". Quite far from it, actually.

Re:Take that, IDers! (2, Insightful)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285288)

I'd say it may well be creating life. It's not exactly designing life (and not exactly NOT designing life either...).


1) The cell they injected the new DNA into had the old DNA removed first - hence it has dead.

2) The new DNA started out as chemicals in a bottle - certainly dead too.

3) The new DNA put into the cell "rebooted" / reanimated it so that it started dividing again. Certainly back alive now!

This experiment may not LOOK that impressive, but consider that the exact same technique can be used to computer modify any type of life you want in any way. Want a hen with teeth - no problem. Replace the feathers with scales ... just a matter of computer programming, then "print" the DNA and animate it.

Note also that while it's "only" the DNA that's being created, not the INITIAL cell, that the copies the cell it makes of itself as it divides are of course made under control of this synthetic DNA, so the 2nd, 3rd, etc generation cells could be considered themselves synthetic.

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285622)

"Creating life" needs to be clearly defined before having this discussion. There are a lot of steps on this ladder between "understanding basic genetics" and "synthesis of arbitrary living cell from raw materials". Which step is the earliest that counts as "creating life" to you? Can you at least agree that synthesizing an arbitrary genome, then placing it inside a functioning cell, is notably closer to "creating life" than breeding dogs or pea plants is?

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285796)

What would count as creating life?
How much does one need to synthesize?
How much needs to be totally original?

You can get to the point where I would think that even if we can do it, we shouldn't. Because it would be impossible to predict with surety how dangerous it would be.

(OTOH, if you're really a young Earth creationist... Sorry. I can't believe that. You can write a coherent paragraph.

But postulating that you were, would anything count as creating life where the atoms weren't synthetic as well as the molecules?)

Re:Take that, IDers! (4, Interesting)

virtualXTC (609488) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283894)

Lets not get a head of our selves here, they've only re-programmed a cell, not created artificial life. If you are looking for a fully artificial cell you should focus on what's going on in George Church's lab [masshightech.com].

Re:Take that, IDers! (3, Insightful)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284596)

The grandparent post was modded as flamebait, but the religious flame war is in real life. From the parent's article:

However, with this step forward comes a new set of ethical considerations, say experts. “We need to be critically aware of the profound implications of creating synthetic life,” said Karl Giberson, director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College in Wenham. “I don’t think this is something to be scared of. I don’t think Mother Nature is being violated in some egregious way. But this is an area of science with important ethical considerations, and religious sensibilities and higher priorities need to be on the table, under discussion.”

It's a pretty moderate response, but even so, it conflates ethics and religion, implying that the ethical decisions should be based on theology. The grandparent is right - this is going to be a culture war thing.

Re:Take that, IDers! (2, Insightful)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285962)

I don't think you're an artist, a writer, or a programmer. If you are, you need to turn around an look at yourself.

This is a first step into the grey area. Creation isn't an area of sharp divisions. Almost everything worthwhile is based on extensive predecessors. This is taking one kind of cell, and converting it into another (closely related) kind. This *IS* creation. It's not creating all that much, but it's creating a new species. (Whatever that means at the level of yeasts.) The new species has the DNA of one old species, and the support system (prions, etc.) of the other one. We know a lot more about the DNA level than we do about the prion level, but prions are in charge of ensuring that proteins fold properly. Change the folding properties, and the proteins act differently. Which means the cell acts differently.

Another step is the insertion of newly designed genes into an existing system. Another step is trying to build a minimal system from scratch. (These are all being worked on simultaneously.)

So this is another step into the area between selective breeding and creating life de novo. (Although even there I'm not implying that the atoms were synthesized. But one could require that step, too. It's just that I don't see any reason anyone would ever bother.)

The categories we think in don't have sharp edges, though we usually pretend they do. This is the creation of life, but it's just barely into the fuzzy area. Even so, it's ended up with a new species, and that wasn't the goal.

(OTOH, I'm not a biologist. It's possible that yeasts don't have prions acting as chaperones for protein folding. In which case I may be wrong about it being a new species, unless they made an error in their DNA synthesis.)

Re:Take that, IDers! (0, Troll)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284498)

Let me see if I follow your argument. The fact that some intelligent people were able to "create" life proves that those who think that it takes intelligence to create life are wrong. Is that the point you were trying to make?

Re:Take that, IDers! (2, Insightful)

domatic (1128127) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284720)

It would prove that it doesn't require a divinity to create life. That doesn't demolish the stated premise of ID but it is a blow to the implied premise of ID, namely "We all know that it was Yahweh but came up with this as a roundabout way of not actually saying it."

Re:Take that, IDers! (1)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285682)

You have a good point, but if the argument was ever "humans will never create life", then he is right to claim this as a victory. I think the "intelligence" in intelligent design is generally understood to refer to some higher power, not the human intelligence we know.

Story I heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285116)

I am not a 'young-earth' creationist, but I do believe in a creator (we have creation, thus there is a creator QED). I heard a related story once:

One day man discovers that he can create life. He tells God that since he can create life he doesn't need God anymore. God tells him to give it a try. Man goes about pushing dirt into the form of life to which God replies, 'Get your own dirt.'

Now I don't doubt that as we use science to unravel the mysteries of life that we will be capable of creating life from organic matter, (this barely counts as they just sequenced an existing genome and copied it) and do so in novel and interesting ways. However, I also know that science will never explain the universe, the number of mysteries we unlock with each discovery is greater than one, thus with increased knowledge comes the knowledge of increased ignorance. And science is only ever an approximation to the truth, it doesn't try to be anything else (though people try to make it more than it is).

Re:Story I heard (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286136)

I came up with the "Cosmic Garbageman" theory of the creation of life on Earth when I was in high school ... but I never believed it seriously.

Still, here it goes:

There's this alien spaceship passing by, and they think that Sol III would be a good place to hold a picnic, so they do. And they're careless about how they dispose of their garbage.

Not exactly "Intelligent Design", but definitely not "life evolved naturally in the seas of earth" either.

There are lots of reasonable possibilities. There aren't many that it's reasonable to assign a high probability. One that *WOULD* qualify as "intelligent design" and has a reasonable possibility is directed panspermia:
Long ago and far away an intelligent life form desired to spread it's descendents throughout the galaxy, but they couldn't figure out an FTL drive. So the whipped up a mix of primitive life forms that would have at least one survive in a mix of environments, wrapped them in a bunch of preservative capsules (designed to protect the contents from cosmic rays, etc., and to give the mass driver something to hold onto, and shot them out at every reasonable target they could find. LOTS of them.

OK. That's "Intelligent Design". I can't prove it was wrong. It actually seems to have a reasonable probability. We might have come from something like that. But do note that that's intelligent design of life, not of humans. I can't think of anything plausible that yields "intelligent design of humans" except the "The Universe is a Simulation" hypotheses. (No way to disprove that one, or estimate it's probability, either. Some variants say "Historical Simulation", others say "Video Game". They're all unfalsifiable.)

Re:Story I heard (1, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286360)

And science is only ever an approximation to the truth, it doesn't try to be anything else (though people try to make it more than it is).

The only people who try to make science into more than it is are religious people. Scientists are keenly aware of the approximations in their search for truth.

BTW, how nice of your God to keep moving the goal posts. It used to be: you can't create life out of dirt. Now you have to create dirt, too? And I presume that the goal posts will keep moving until they arrive at "Use your own space/time continuum."

Where's my nobel? (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283562)

sudo dd if=genome.helix of=/dev/nucleus0

Re:Where's my nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285668)

sudo dd if=genome.helix of=/dev/nucleus0


Waits for... (4, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283584)

... the first fully patented life forms. I'm really curious how that would work.... let's say an egg gets a fully artificial set of chromosomes that include patented genes for fixing Thyroid diseases, preventing breast cancer, and purple hair with green skin. Let's also say that that egg develops into a regular person. Is that person property? What happens if they have kids? Do they need to pay royalties?

I can't wait for this stuff, because it will allow for some truly awesome fixes to truly terrible diseases. But I'm also pretty sure that this will result in legal messes of epic proportions. Monsanto will be a side show compared to that.

Re:Waits for... (2, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283746)

legal messes of epic proportions

Only in America.

Though it will spawn the new industry of genetic engineering tourism.

Re:Waits for... (2, Insightful)

Anomalyx (1731404) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283860)

Not to be the party pooper here, but I do doubt this will get expanded to humans. Messing with Human DNA would take massive amounts of experimentation (since we don't really know squat about how it works, when you compare what we do know to what we don't know), with massive amounts of harmful effects (and deaths) on said test subjects. Without even debating the ethics of it here, I highly doubt that such experimentation would be welcomed by society.

Re:Waits for... (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284360)

It can be done, and that means it will be done. The first applications will be medical; synthetic gene therapy could offer cures for many diseases we currently have no way to treat, and only "it's bad 'cause it's got DNA in it!!!" Luddites will object. Yes, there will be harmful side effects, including death, but people with terminal cancer, or parents of children with terrible birth defects, will be willing to take the risk. Once the therapeutic principles are established, we'll inevitably see more frivolous applications. And at that point, whether or not it's "welcomed by society" will be irrelevant -- as long as there are people with the money to pay for it, someone will do it.

That being said, we're a long way from that point. There's a hell of a lot of difference between building a bacterial genome and modifying a human one at will.

Re:Waits for... (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284682)

I dunno, the military types are the ones willing to dive head first into unknown and questionable territory without regard to life, limb, and cost to taxpayers.

I'm kinda surprised that our special forces don't have cyber eyes with natural night-vision and HUDs yet. Of course, super-soldiers take time to grow.

Re:Waits for... (1)

nashv (1479253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283908)

Uh, no. It works by the parents who want to procure a 'fixed' egg licensing the right to duplicate the patented genes. It doesn't work by ownership, it works by license. Obviously, multiplication of the gene for use through out the body is fair use for the lifetime of the organism. It works in the same way software licensing does. After all, genes are software, DNA is the medium. I realise though that in general, its not a pretty thought.

Re:Waits for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284396)

I patent you!

Re:Waits for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284998)

No, I patent you!

Re:Waits for... (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284856)

"Is that person property? What happens if they have kids? Do they need to pay royalties?"

This is just silly. "Parents" will probably pay through the nose, but not the person or his kids.

Re:Waits for... (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285272)

Current court cases have made farmers pay if GM crops pollinate their crops, even unknowingly, so making the kids pay is just a few steps away.

Awesome & aweinspiring (1)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283628)

Pandora's box has been opened. I'm excited to see what pours out over the next decades. We all know we need radical new technology to fix the energy crisis and reduce climate gas emissions. Hopefully, we can engineer more efficient organisms, providing clean(er) energy and food for the world's ever-growing population.

Re:Awesome & aweinspiring (5, Insightful)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283738)

Pandora's box has been opened. I'm excited to see what pours out over the next decades.

Uh, I think you need to read up on your Greek mythology a bit more. Opening Pandora's Box [wikipedia.org] was not such a good thing.

Re:Awesome & aweinspiring (1)

vxice (1690200) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283872)

Maybe he is the type who thinks horror movies are too fake looking and wants to see it in real life. I mean once Pandora's box is open you can't close it, or at least the cat is out of the bag so you can't fix the problem so why worry about it? Enjoy the ride because you are getting a front row seat to something of spectacular, destruction you know what ever your thing is, why waste such a good gift.

Re:Awesome & aweinspiring (3, Insightful)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284306)

Or maybe he was being so subtly ironic that I missed the point entirely.

Re:Awesome & aweinspiring (1)

mollog (841386) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283742)

We all know we need radical new technology to fix the energy crisis and reduce climate gas emissions.

Let's see, we create a problem with misguided policies and practices. Now we fix said problem with a new, complex technology. What could possibly go wrong?

This planet will become a barren desert and mankind will vanish. Rightfully so.

Re:Awesome & aweinspiring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285560)


signed, Everyone Else

Wait... desert??

Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283734)

"Dr Venter likened the advance to making new software for the cell."

Can I install Linux on it then?

Re:Linux (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283824)

Sorry, it's Windows only. They were required to place a limiter on it, so it wouldn't stay alive forever, and Windows just seemed a natural fit.

Re:Linux (1)

Alien1024 (1742918) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285138)

Well, that specific requirement can be met with other operating systems. For example, I don't think the Nexus series [imdb.com] (and I don't mean the Google Phone) will run under Windows.

Re:Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284874)

once you install linux on it it stops reproducing

I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283776)

...want to welcome our synthetic yeast-e. coli-yeast overlords

Zombie movie all the way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284012)

This just sounds like the beginning of every zombie movie ever made. I, for one, can't wait to baseball bat some zombie skull!

Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (5, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284092)

I guess we should wait until the actual Science article comes out, but it looks like they basically synthesized an entire bacterial genome, as opposed to the normal way of having a bacteria copy it's own genome with it's own enzymes, and then they put it into a different bacterial strain.

Is that "making" a cell artificially? They didn't make most of the bacterial cell themselves, the bacteria did that. They didn't design the genome from scratch, they just copied an existing one that nature made and modified it a bit. I'm not sure that constitutes actually making a cell artificially. If you buy a mac at a store, print out the ones and zeros to make windows vista, manually retype them, make a boot disk, and install that on the mac and it worked, that would be an impressive feat, sure, but did you "make a completely new computer?" (Best comparison I could come up with, sorry about that in advance). I don't think this can be considered making life yet.

Second, is this "life?" Life seems to be impossible to define, but it's pretty certain that "genome was stitched together in a lab and inserted into a dummy cell" is unique to this thing, nothing else we'd call life has that feature. Does that disqualify it as life and make it something else?

To their credit, Venter doesn't seem to be claiming they made new life, but they are aiming for that eventually, and I'm curious as to what slashdot thinks about when we can actually say we've created artificial life.

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (1)

hallucinogen (1263152) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284422)

It's more like that they made a .iso image of some cd and then burned that to another cd and it played just fine in the cd-player.

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (2, Interesting)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284570)

To their credit, Venter doesn't seem to be claiming they made new life, but they are aiming for that eventually, and I'm curious as to what slashdot thinks about when we can actually say we've created artificial life.

I'd say it's life once the constructed bacteria show that they're able to reproduce, and keep doing so for a number of generations (which can take place pretty quickly for bacteria.) Until then it's an interesting piece of machinery.

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (2, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285036)

That would be a good readout that it is functional, and undoubtedly they did that already. Working with a single bacterium is I guess possible, but pretty much everyone just works with whole colonies.

They wouldn't have had much to screen from to see if they got the genome in had they not gotten a colony rather than a single cell.

Anyway, the reason "reproducing" isn't a good standard for defining life is there are many live things, such as mules, which aren't capable of reproducing, and some non-living things which are capable of reproducing to various degrees. For example fire spreads by catching other things on fire, and it's questionable whether prions are alive or not though they can reproduce.

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (1)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286196)

I don't want to be prejudiced against yet undiscovered beings of pure energy, but I object to fire being considered "alive" due to it's lack of self-organized physical form.

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (3, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285206)

Personally, I would prefer to wait until we produce a novel self-replicating "machine" (biological or otherwise) before we call it artificial life. Synthetic life, however, yes I would qualify this as. At least, in the sense that it is the artificial construction of a known quantity/concept through synthesis between related assets. That is to say, this and its project, like much of genetic engineering, is a cut and paste job. This achievement is the latest in a reduction of the cut and paste; the latest in a process of producing successively more fine grained reassembly jobs towards any of the goals of a the development of a novel mechanism (directed evolution or generative engineering which I like to call "gengineering"), a synthesis of of existing mechanisms in a singular form (recombinant and splicing GM), or imitation of an existing form. We're not to artificial life yet, but somewhere down the row of increasing granularity lies an invisible line which, when crossed, will I be satisfied in calling it such.

As an aside, I really was conflicted whether to state my opinion here or mod you up to increase the chances of getting more opinions. Ultimately, I decided yours is strong enough to stand on its own. Good luck in getting to 5!

Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (2, Interesting)

Flambergius (55153) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285822)

Is it life? Yes. It's true that life is somewhat difficult to define, but bacteria lies well within any definition I've heard.

Did they make it? Well, that's a bit more complex.

Bacteria is basically a self-replicating machine that has software to encode it's own building instructions. Its software gets replaced, so it won't any more build copies of itself, but rather a different machine. That new machine is also a self-replicating machine, just a different one (down to protein level). Now both machines build new machines based on the same software. Add several generations and death of the earlies generation. (I think the change is gradual.) Result is a colony of self-replicating machines that are not like the original machine but are like each other. No trace of the original remains.

Also note that the exact type of the original bacteria isn't important. They used the ones they did because they are practical, but they could have used different ones and would have ended up with the same end result. Software/genome determines the composition of the end result.

Is that making? I think it is. An intentional act, using the original bacteria to bootstrap a process, that determines the end result and produces something that would not otherwise exist. One could, I guess, define making to exclude bootstrapping techniques, but I think there are several programmers of silicon-based computers that would disagree with that definition.


Re:Did the institute "make" it and is this "life"? (1)

priegog (1291820) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286140)

Personally I'll call it "synthetic life" when they design the genes from scratch. Otherwise, they're infringing on nature's patents. And that's just not cool, specially considering how they're likely to make the lawsuits rain on anyone who even thinks about using one of their "patented" "artificial" life forms. This whole "patenting living organisms" (natural, modified or completely synthetic) is a wonderful debate to be had, but I won't touch it today.
I'll conform to defining "creating synthetic life".
As I said, we already know a shitton about biology, and I do think we have the knowledge to be able to create an organism that is able to feed and reproduce, completely from scratch. The thing is, it would be a COLLOSAL effort, trying to model and simulate how completely new proteins are supposed to arrange themselves intro primary, secondary, terciary and even cuaternary structures, and how they are supposed to interact with their medium and other proteins... etc. AFAIK (and please correct me if I'm wrong) there aren't really any truly NEW molecules us humans have DESIGNED from scratch to be used as medicines. They are all based, derived, and sometimes even still being extracted from natural sources like plants, animals, hormones, bacteria...
This is the new frontier we as humans need to conquer technology-wise in order to keep advancing us into the space age, IMHO.
So those are MY requirements... heck, I'll give them extra kudos if they use another molecule completely unrelated to DNA/RNA, or at the very least change the genetic code. About the first host "shell" I don't really care, since it's just a technicallity that can be easily overcome, at that. I think.

What is the function of the E. coli? (2, Informative)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284826)

Article is unclear on this.

Because current machines can only assemble relatively short strings of DNA letters at a time, the researchers inserted the shorter sequences into yeast, whose DNA-repair enzymes linked the strings together. They then transferred the medium-sized strings into E. coli and back into yeast. After three rounds of assembly, the researchers had produced a genome over a million base pairs long.

I read this as:

Sequencer-> Yeast -> E. coli -> Yeast -> Repeat
Short segments-> Merged segment -> ? -> ??? -> Full M. mycoides Genome

Re:What is the function of the E. coli? (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285422)

Yahknow, I tried to figure this one out myself when I was writing the submission. Physorg doesn't elaborate, but their article has since been updated with the release of an official press release by JCVI [jcvi.org] Curiously, E. coli doesn't appear to be mentioned anywhere on their release. Nor is it on the project's site [jcvi.org], at least at casual glance. Perhaps additional information on the process may be found in one of their fact sheets [jcvi.org] (PDF WARNING!)

Re:What is the function of the E. coli? (2, Informative)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285804)

Ah, thanks for that. From the PDF:

1. The JCVI team designed specific cassettes of DNA that were 1,080 base pairs long with overlaps of 80 base pairs (bp) at their ends to aid in building the longer stretches of DNA. These were made according to JCVI’s specifications by the DNA synthesis company, Blue Heron Biotechnology.

2. Then the team employed a three stage process using yeast to build the genome using 1,078 cassettes that are 1,080 bp in length. The first stage involves taking 10 cassettes of DNA at a time to build 10,000 bp long segments. In the second stage, these 10,000 bp segments are taken 10 at a time to produce eleven 100,000 bp long segments. Finally, all 11 segments are assembled into a complete synthetic genome as an extra chromosome in a

yeast cell, by using yeast genetic systems. 3. The complete synthetic M. mycoides genome is then released from the yeast cell and transplanted into M. capricolum recipient cells that have had the gene for a restriction enzyme removed. Following incubation, viable M. mycoides cells are produced in which the only DNA present is the synthetic genome. These cells are controlled only by that synthetic genome.

Which then makes sense of the chart which states the sequence as:

1. Oligonucleotide Synthesizer
2. Yeast
3. ?
4. Extract Complete Genome from Yeast

1. Oligonucleotides in 1,080 bp cassettes (1,078)

2. 10,080 bp assemblies (109)
(Assemble 11X)

3. 100,000 bp assemblies (11)
(Assemble 1X)

4. 1,077,947 bp

So I guess the ?? in step 3 is the E. coli, which assembles the 10,000bp segments into 100,000 bp segments, which are finally stitched together back in the yeast as an extra genome.

That's new? (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284870)

including designing algae that can capture carbon dioxide

The natural algae already do this. Even more, they produce oxygen at the same time!

fp spon63 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285486)

To yet another Cans can become website. Mr. de
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