May 20, 2010
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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."
November 27, 2009
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One of the trends we’ll be following for 2010 is synthetic biology — efforts to create entirely novel organisms and systems from “scratch.” A fundamental question in the quest to create novel life forms is what the minimal genome is that will comprise a living organism.
Scientists have been looking for, and at, existing organisms with small genomes to try to answer that question; but a series of reports on the genome of one such organism suggests they may be looking in the wrong place.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae has one of the smallest known genomes among free-living organisms — just 816,000 base pairs — so it seemed like a good candidate for understanding life’s minimal requirements. However, three Science papers this week show that the organism uses a bunch of very sophisticated tricks to squeeze a lot of function out of its small genetic pantry.
My guess is that it will be easier to deduce minimal requirements by experimenting on organisms with better characterized, though larger, genomes than by trying to decipher all the tricks of the Mycoplasma trade.
October 6, 2009
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In updating this blog’s Trends in 2009 series for 2010, I noted that synthetic biology has garnered recent attention in The New Yorker and The Economist and it may be poised to attract more commercial attention. Here’s a great chance to get a jump on the topic…
Ontario Genomics Institute (OGI) and Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) are hosting a free one-day symposium on synthetic biology on October 27th at MaRS. It’s invitation only, but you can contact Helen Petropoulos <hpetropoulos at ontariogenomics dot ca> if you want to register.
The symposium will be chaired by Elizabeth Edwards, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto, and presenters include leading researchers from across North America:
- Dr. Daniel Gibson, Assistant Professor, Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy, J. Craig Venter Institute
- Dr. Michael Jewett, Research Fellow in the Department of Genetics, Harvard University
- Dr. Robert Holt, Senior Scientist, Genome Sciences Centre, University of British Columbia
- Dr. Vincent Martin, Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Engineering, Concordia University
- Dr. Raymond MacDonald, Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, Southwestern Medical Center
- Dr. Scott Rose, Director of Molecular Biology Applications, Integrated DNA Technologies; and
- Kristala Jones Prather, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Here’s the blurb from the organizers:
“This symposium will explore the field of synthetic biology and its many application areas, culminating in a panel discussion focused on challenges and opportunities in one of today’s most promising research fields. An open public forum on synthetic biology and its impact on society will follow the symposium program.”
Hope to see you there!