Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Creating Life

Living things don't get a whole lot humbler than a bacterium, with its few hundred thousand genetic base pairs and its stripped-down physical design. Still, you try inventing one. That's what geneticist J. Craig Venter — one of the two men credited with mapping the human genome — managed to do. Venter stitched together the 582,000 base pairs necessary to invent the genetic information for a whole new bacterium. Step two is to boot up that DNA programming in a living bacterium to see if it takes charge of the organism. That's next on Venter's agenda — and he has little doubt it will work. As any software designer will tell you, once you know how to write the code, you can make it do almost anything.