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Scientists Create Synthetic Life In Lab

A US biologist claims to have created the first man-made cell in one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past two decades.

Dr Craig Venter said his researchers had built a DNA strand from scratch and inserted it into a simple bacterium, creating so-called synthetic life.

Applications of the study include the production of medicines and biofuels, and could even help in the absorption of greenhouse gases.

A report published in the Science journal details how the team effectively stimulated a yeast cell into taking on a new life.

Scientists at first made short strands of DNA and then put them together to form a chromosome, which was then inserted into the yeast cell, replacing its native DNA.

They found the cell took on the appearance and behaviour of the transplanted chromosome, generating different proteins and multiplying.

Craig Venter

Dr Craig Venter

"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome," Dr Venter said.

"This is an important step we think, both scientifically and philosophically.

"It's certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."

Sky's health correspondent Thomas Moore said the scientists have created a form of life never before seen on the planet.

"Other groups are working on it around the world, but [Dr Venter's] the first to have done this," Moore said.

"He's the man who has opened up a new chapter, where we are not just looking at life that has evolved - but life that is created in a laboratory."

Ethicist Dr Tom Douglas told Sky News the research opened up a number of dilemmas.

M. mycoides (J Craig Venter Institute)

Electron micrograph of the yeast cells (Image: J. Craig Venter Institute)

"Some will worry about the idea that this involves a problematic form of playing God," he said.

"Some will worry that this is undermining the distinction of living beings and machines.

"I think the greatest issue posed by this research is not really anything to do with the fact that it's artificial life as such, it's got to do with the potential for this kind of research to be misused to create pathogens that could be used in biological weapons."

Dr Venter, who runs the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland, came to fame when he challenged publicly-funded scientists working on the Human Genome Project - the first attempt to produce a complete map of the human genetic code.

He set out to construct his own private version of the human genome, using a different "short cut" method.

His team succeeded but the race ended in a dead heat when both versions were published simultaneously in Science in 2001.

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I find this very disturbing...

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Comment by Simmy on May 21, 2010 at 11:49am
Comment by Simmy on May 21, 2010 at 11:27am
I find this very disturbing...

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