Saturday, June 30, 2007

Booting Up a Chromosome System

Wow. Right here in Rockville, these guys are really starting to understand the very most basic essence of life. What they will eventually do is to create new life-forms by engineering new chromosomes, but that's still a long time off. For now, this amazing breakthrough lets a scientist take a chromosome out of one kind of bacterium and put it into a cell of another type. The transported chromosome then takes over the operation of that cell, and when it divides and reproduces you end up with a whole population of, basically, the first type.

There has been a lot written in the last couple of days about this experiment. Here's how The Edge has it:
In a news cycle dominated by Paris Hilton and the Apple iPhone, Craig Venter has announced the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another. This is news, bound to affect everyone on the planet...

The day after the announcement, Edge talked to Venter, who had the following to say about the research underway:
Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn't matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chomosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chomosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn't know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It's not a question of 'if', or 'how', but 'when', and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years. Changing One Species Into Another

You also might enjoy this nice radio interview with Dr. Venter and a Stanford professor who considers ethical aspects of the research. It's very clear, good listening: Science Friday (links are on the righthand side of the screen).

He explains what is actually new and surprising in this research. For instance, he talks about the possibility of a chromosome being introduced into a cell in nature, producing a new species. He describes the cholera bacterium as having one chromosome that is just like e. coli, and then another other that is different -- where did that second chromosome come from? He talks about enzymes that have evolved in the cell to restrict the introduction of foreign DNA (the cell he used didn't have such a feature), saying these enzymes probably function to prevent this kind of event happening in the wild.

They are thinking about using a technique like this to create a new kind of fuel. Would that be cool, or what?

If you've got some time, I recommend the radio interview.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What they will eventually do is to create new life-forms by engineering new chromosomes, but that's still a long time off."

Will that ever really happen? Most secularists seem to think the world is doomed. Stephen Hawking thinks biological engineering will produce a form of warfare that won't be able to be contained. He says we need to colonize space fast to survive.

TTF spokesman Randi Schimonkey thinks global warming will do us in.

Who can argue?

Check out Genesis 6 to learn what happened the last time a new life form was created on Earth by the created.

July 01, 2007 6:23 PM  

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