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Scientists try to discover how many genes are necessary to build a living organism

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 18 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1592
  1. Deborah Josefson
  1. San Francisco

    Scientists from the Institute of Genomics Research, in Rockville, Maryland, have taken a significant step towards answering the age old question, “What is life?” by defining the minimal genomic sequence essential for a functional organism.

    The research sets the stage for creating a living organism in the laboratory and opens up a host of ethical, legal, biomedical, and environmental considerations.

    The researchers, led by Clyde Hutchinson III, Scott Peterson, and Craig Venter from the institute, and colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tried to define the minimal DNA sequence necessary to maintain cellular function for an organism under laboratory conditions (Science 1999;December 10;286:2165-9).

    To do so, they started with the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, a bacterium which has the smallest known fully sequenced genome and is only 580 kilobase (kb) pairs long. A total of 517 genes are encoded in these base pairs, of which 480 encode proteins and an additional 37 represent genes for RNA …

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