JCVI Scientists Publish First Bacterial Genome Transplantation Changing One Species to Another

This is a link to the news from Craig Venter that he has succeeded in changing one species of bacteria into another, as described here…

Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) today announced the results of work on genome transplantation methods allowing them to transform one type of bacteria into another type dictated by the transplanted chromosome. The work, published online in the journal Science, by JCVI’s Carole Lartigue, Ph.D. and colleagues, outlines the methods and techniques used to change one bacterial species, Mycoplasma capricolum into another, Mycoplasma mycoides Large Colony (LC), by replacing one organism’s genome with the other one’s genome.

“The successful completion of this research is important because it is one of the key proof of principles in synthetic genomics that will allow us to realize the ultimate goal of creating a synthetic organism,” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., president and chairman, JCVI. “We are committed to this research as we believe that synthetic genomics holds great promise in helping to solve issues like climate change and in developing new sources of energy.”

Following this announcement, Venter agreed to be interviewed by The Edge, to whom he made this statement…

Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn’t matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chomosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chomosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn’t know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It’s not a question of ‘if’, or ‘how’, but ‘when’, and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years.

John Hawks wrote this up on June 1st, bringing our attention to various detractors who view such developments with something less than all-out enthusiasm, not least of which was from the ETC Group in Canada, who had this to say…

“Once more a new technology is storming ahead with no government or international body able to regulate or control it,” says biologist Florianne Koechlin from SAG (the Swiss Working Group on Gene Technology). “Once more we hear from the scientific community, supported by industry and the military, that they have life under control and will soon be able to construct it. But life is more than the sum of its parts.” Koechlin is a member of the Swiss government-appointed ethics body that will investigate the implications of synthetic biology later this year.

Craig Venter himself has a long history of mixing cutting-edge science with commercial exploitation. He led the private part of the human genome-sequencing project, selling human genetic data to pharmaceutical companies as he went. Once again he has announced that he hopes to cash in on a new science, boasting that his new synthetic creation could be the first trillion-dollar organism[2]. Just last week he inked an investment deal with oil company BP that brought the commercial value of his start-up company, Synthetic Genomics, Inc., to US$300 million[3]. Civil society critics are concerned that, using broad patents, Venter may carve out a monopoly position as the ‘Microbesoft’ of synthetic biology.

“In the last year synthetic biologists have really climbed into bed with big business,” explains Jim Thomas of the ETC Group. “With BP, Cargill and DuPont setting their sights on synbio, the corporate agenda is starting to drive this powerful technology. Society should be concerned about whose interests will get ignored or even trampled on.”

For his part, John Hawks draws a comparison between Venter and Dr. Eldon Tyrell, boss of the eponymous corporation, and the bespectacled bio-engineer responsible for the creation of the replicants, in the guise of the Nexus 6 renegades, Rachael who believes she is human, and Deckhard the Blade Runner, whom we are initially led to believe is human, until we see the dream sequence in which he sees a unicorn, alerting us to the fact that his memories, like those of Rachel, have been implanted – this is alluded to again by the origami unicorn left in Deckard’s apartment by Gaff, with whom he was originally tasked with terminating the replicants – including Rachael.

And so while one part of the scientific community concerns itself with where we came from, an entirely different branch will be deciding, with or without our consent, as to where mankind is heading – physically, mentally and ultimately away from Earth, most likely to help colonise worlds that ordinarily might be considered too distant, harsh or environmentally unfriendly for the likes of ordinary flesh and blood humans.

image: Hannibal Chew, happily at work in his Eye World, ‘Blade Runner’

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