Tag Archives: synthetic life

On the Quest for Synthetic Life, Scientists Build Their Own Cellular Protein Factory

In an important step towards creating synthetic life forms, genetics pioneer George Church has produced a man-made version of the part of the cell that turns out proteins, which carry out the business of life. “If you going to make synthetic life that is anything like current life … you have got to have this … biological machine,” Church told reporters in a telephone briefing. And it can have important industrial uses, especially for manufacturing drugs and proteins not found in nature [Reuters].

Church’s team built a functional ribosome from scratch, molecule by molecule. Ribosomes are molecular machines that read strands of RNA and translate the genetic code into proteins. They are exquisitely complex, and previous attempts to reconstitute a ribosome from its constituent parts – dozens of proteins along with several molecules of RNA – yielded poorly functional ribosomes, and even then succeeded only when researchers resorted to “strange conditions” that did not recapitulate the environment of a living cell, Church said [Nature blog]. Next, the researchers want to produce man-made ribosomes that can replicate themselves.

Church’s work hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal; instead he presented his preliminary results at a seminar of Harvard alumni over the weekend. He described how his research team first disassembled ribosomes from E. coli, a common lab bacterium, into its component molecules. They then used enzymes to put the various RNA and protein components back together. When put together in a test tube, these components spontaneously formed into functional ribosomes…. The researchers used the artificial ribosome to successfully produce the luciferase enzyme, a firefly protein that generates the bug’s glow [Technology Review].

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Harvard Scientists’ Discovery Opens Door to Synthetic Life

Harvard University scientists are a step closer to creating synthetic forms of life, part of a drive to design man-made organisms that may one day be used to help produce new fuels and create biotechnology drugs.

Researchers led by George Church, whose findings helped spur the U.S. human genome project in the 1980s, have copied the part of a living cell that makes proteins, the building blocks of life. The finding overcomes a major roadblock in making synthetic self-replicating organisms, Church said today in a lecture at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The technology can be used to program cells to make virtually any protein, even some that don’t exist in nature, the scientists said. That may allow production of helpful new drugs, chemicals and organisms, including living bacteria. It also opens the door to ethical concerns about creation of processes that may be uncontrollable by life’s natural defenses.

“It’s the key component to making synthetic life,” Church said yesterday in a telephone call with reporters. “We haven’t made synthetic life and it’s not our primary goal, but this is a huge milestone in that direction.”

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Synthetic life form grows in Florida lab

When NASA began thinking about missions to look for life beyond Earth, it realized it had a problem: how to recognize life if it were found.

Scientists came up with a definition for life — a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution — but remained understandably fuzzy on the details.

It is still not known how life on Earth took hold, what happened to a bunch of chemicals that made them capable of supporting a metabolism, replicating and evolution. But a new field of science, called synthetic biology, is aiming to find out.

One of the most promising developments lies in a beaker of water inside a Florida laboratory. It’s an experiment called AEGIS — an acronym for Artificially Expanded Genetic Information System. Its creator, Steve Benner, says it is the first synthetic genetic system capable of Darwinian evolution.

AEGIS is not self-sustaining, at least not yet, and with 12 DNA building blocks — as opposed to the usual four — there’s little chance it will be confused with natural life. Still, Benner is encouraged by the results.

“It’s evolving. It’s doing what we designed it to do,” said Benner, a biochemist with the Gainesville, Fla.-based Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

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Scientists expect to create life in next 10 years

Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they’re getting closer.

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.”

“It’s going to be a big deal and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. “We’re talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways — in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.”

That first cell of synthetic life — made from the basic chemicals in DNA — may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you’ll have to look in a microscope to see it.

“Creating protocells has the potential to shed new life on our place in the universe,” Bedau said. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.

Bedau figures there are three major hurdles to creating synthetic life:

  • A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.
  • A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.
  • A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.

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Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next

Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next

Scientists have built the first synthetic genome by stringing together 147 pages of letters representing the building blocks of DNA.

The researchers used yeast to stitch together four long strands of DNA into the genome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium. They said it’s more than an order of magnitude longer than any previous synthetic DNA creation. Leading synthetic biologists said with the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science, the first synthetic life could be just months away — if it hasn’t been created already.

“We consider this the second in our three-step process to create the first synthetic organism,” said J. Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute where scientists performed the study, on Thursday during a teleconference. “What remains now that we have this complete synthetic chromosome … is to boot this up in a cell.”

With the new ability to sequence a genome, scientists can begin to custom-design organisms, essentially creating biological robots that can produce from scratch chemicals humans can use. Biofuels like ethanol, for example.

Artificial Life Likely in 3 to 10 Years

Artificial Life Likely in 3 to 10 Years

Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they’re getting closer.Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.”

“It’s going to be a big deal and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. “We’re talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways—in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.”

That first cell of synthetic life—made from the basic chemicals in DNA—may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you’ll have to look in a microscope to see it.

“Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe,” Bedau said. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.

First Genome Transplant Changes One Species Into Another

First genome transplant changes one species into another

For the first time, scientists have completely transformed a species of bacteria into another species by transplanting its complete set of DNA. The achievement marks a significant step toward the construction of synthetic life, with applications including the production of clean fuel in as little as a decade.Scientists Carole Lartigue and colleagues from the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, have published their results in a recent issue of Science. In addition to being a proof-of-concept experiment, the researchers hope that genome transplantation will enable the production of synthetic microbes for green energy sources, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and textiles.