Scientists at the Venter Institute have reported the creation of the first “synthetic cell”.
In fact the actual cell in question is a naturally occuring bacteriual call known as Mycoplasma capricolum. This cell received a laboratory assembled genome derived from another bacteria known as Mycoplasma mycoides. So, the only artificial part so far is the artificialy assembled genome.
However, as the Mycoplasma capricolum cell divides its cytoplasm becomes more and more dilute and after 30 cell divisions the cells not only have synthetically derived chromosomes but they are also producing proteins generated by the synthetic genetic material making them, in effect, totally artificial / synthetic cells. This experoimental cell contains minimal genetic material; just the bits to keep its internal workings going and no more – this is why the entire genome from Mycoplasma mycoides was not used but instead re-assembled, only containing the vital genes needed for the most basic oif cellular functions. This work has taken over 15 years to come this far with 99 out of 100 experiments failing in the process.
Naturally, this work has prompted a flurry of interest, excitment, anger and worry… with comments like “scientists do not know enough about biology to create life” being exchanged.
Its earkly days but science marches on and we will have to wait and see how things develope in the future, but one thing is for sure; this cell was not 100% synthetic to start with and only became so after some 30 generations. If it would survive in nature is questionable simply because it does not contain the genome for survival out side of the laboratory.
Read about the project more here.