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Scientists report first self replicating bacteria with synthetic genome

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 25 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2796
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

    A US research team has reported successfully constructing the first self replicating bacteria cells controlled entirely by DNA that had been chemically synthesised in the laboratory.

    The research group first manufactured a modified genome for Mycoplasma mycoides, a single celled parasite bacterium that lacks a cell wall. They pieced together more than 1000 cassettes, or sequences of DNA, each 1080 base pairs long, to make the entire 1.08 million base pair chromosome—the largest synthetic molecule of a defined structure to be constructed.

    The entirely synthetic genome was then transplanted into Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cells. After two days, viable cells containing only synthetic DNA were clearly visible, the research group reported online in the journal Science last week (doi:10.1126/science.1190719).

    “For nearly 15 years, our team has been working towards this publication—the successful completion of our work to construct a bacterial cell that is fully controlled by a synthetic genome,” said J Craig Venter, senior author and founder of the institute (named after him) where the work was conducted. He heads the not for profit genomic research organisation, which has centres in Rockville and La Jolla, California, dedicated to advancing the science of genomics.

    Commenting on the potential applications of the new development, Hamilton Smith, also from the J Craig Venter Institute, said, “With this first synthetic bacterial cell and the new tools and technologies we developed to successfully complete this project, we now have the means to dissect the genetic instruction set of a bacterial cell to understand how it really works.”

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