Craig Venter's recent announcement
that his J. Craig Venter Institute research team had successfully made one new bacterial species from another brought this reaction from UCSF's premier synthetic biologist, Christopher Voigt, PhD.
"This is really great work," says Voigt. "This is the first step in what will ultimately be the creation of the first synthetic genome for a cell because they were able to transfer the naked DNA of a whole genome into a new organism and have this DNA 'turn on' and convert the cell into what is encoded in the DNA. The second step is to use chemical DNA synthesis to construct a complete genome that doesn't already exist."
What of the fact that the genomes were related? Does that minimize the achievement? "It's true that the work begs the question as to how close species have to be for this procedure to work," says Voigt. "Here, one mycoplasma genome was transferred into another mycoplasma genome. How far away can you go?"
Still, even with this question, Voigt thinks the technical achievement will stand as a milestone. "The DNA was 'naked.' In other words, it did not contain any attached proteins. The genome was purified using innovative techniques to ensure that the large piece of DNA did not break. Then it was transformed into the host cell. An antibiotic marker was placed in the old genome such that after a few generations, only that genome was present in the offspring. The host cell was completely converted into the new cell type simply by transferring the DNA.
"This will really have an incredible impact on the field. The construction of synthetic genomes is currently technically achievable. This will allow the construction of synthetic genomes that can simply be placed into the host cell, which will then automatically 'boot up' and produce a new living organism."
JCVI Scientists Publish First Bacterial Genome Transplantation Changing One Species to Another
J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), June 28, 2007
Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another
, June 28, 2007
Voigt Makes Synthetic Biology Come Alive
UCSF Science Café, June 15, 2007