Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008

21. The Synthetic Organism

Man makes life! Or almost. J. Craig Venter, co-cartographer of the human genome, managed another genetic first when he pieced together de novo the genome of a living organism from a batch of man-made compounds. Granted, he chose the organism with one of the smallest genomes on the planet, but splicing together its more than 582,000 base pairs was no easy feat. Venter has yet to boot up his product in a cell to prove that it truly is alive, but that should come, he predicts, within the year. Once that happens, he believes it will be possible to mix and match genomes to generate an endless list of organisms that can perform all sorts of molecular magic, from turning sugar into fuel or digesting oil spills in oceans to even churning out cures for disease. Who needs evolution?