Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

Synthetic Cell

Move over, Dr. Frankenstein, and make room for your 21st-century counterpart, Dr. Venter. That's J. Craig Venter, co-mapper of the human genome, who this year took another step toward creating life in the lab. Generated from a painstaking process of stitching together the chemicals that compose DNA, Venter synthesized the entire genome of a bacterium, which was inserted into a cell and was able to replicate. Granted, Venter's "synthetic cell" had hardly the personality of Mary Shelley's angst-fueled monster, but it's man-made life nonetheless. Venter hopes his findings will be the first of a long line of lab-made creatures in synthetic biology. By mixing and matching genetic material into viable combinations, Venter is already generating organisms that may serve as new types of biofuel, or even speed up flu vaccine production by allowing researchers to keep ready-made versions of different viral strains of influenza on lab shelves.