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Trends Update — Synthetic Biology: JCVI’s First Synthetic Cell (or, A Goat Walked Into a Lab)

World, meet "Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0", 1.08-Mbps of synthetic life.

Today’s issue of Science contains an article by scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute, who have synthesized a Mycoplasma genome from scratch and transplanted it to a recipient cell. Those recipients have since reproduced using entirely the synthetic DNA.

In the quest to create novel organisms from scratch, Mycoplasma have been the tools of choice. Their small genomes suggest that they stick to the minimum genetic requirements for life (though they may contain unexpected complexity). Still, a megabase is a lot of DNA to assemble, so the JCVI gang uses a cool trick that combines long synthesized oligonucleotides by alternating between yeast and bacterial hosts to stitch the oligos into longer and longer segments. The host cells are controlled by, and exhibit the distinct characteristics of, the synthetic genome.

Venter, noting that the strain they made is a Mycoplasma that exists only in goats, is happy to illustrate the containment features:

"Unless a goat walks into the laboratory, or somebody walks out of our laboratory and injects a goat, we’re probably pretty good."

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