Artificial life created for the first time

The M. genitalium bacteria | Image: BBC News Life’s so complex that only a civilization far more advanced than our own could ever produce it artificially, right?

Wrong. Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland have successfully created the full genome for a species of bacteria, completely from scratch, the first time ever that life on our planet has been created by artificial means. Even though it was only a bacteria, with what is thought to be one of the shortest genetic codes around, it still contained an amazing 582,970 base pairs, each of which had to be arranged in exactly the right order for the code to be correct.

How is this possible? A big problem scientists had is that you can join a few base pairs together fine (32,000 is the longest ever achieved), but any more and they start to break apart. The solution was to create 101 smaller chains (each containing 5000-7000 pairs), and then join them all together using enzymes.The steps to creating artificial chromosomes, which can them be joined to make genes | Image: BBC News

So what implications is this going to have? For the moment at least, scientists have no intention whatsoever to create mini-zombies to terrorize and kill us all. However, artificial life forms could be in widespread use in as little as a decade or two, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing clean fuels, two things our planet is in desperate need of.

I am strongly in favor of amazing progress like this, but I know that many people say it is ‘playing God’, and there are also questions about where research like this stops – what’s to stop this technology being used for biological warfare, or for some sick professor’s dream of aliens wandering the streets… I’d be really interested to hear your views – post your comments below.

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One Response

  1. I think this has great implications. One being for use on Mars or the moon for future colonization efforts. Knowing exactly what has gone into these organisims would be a great way to keep new frontiers from being ‘taken over’ by wild types. This is, of course, if we can also control the reproduction in a way to avoid mutations such as with a selection gene and specific antibiotics.

    -Tommy

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