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Ultimate Enlightenment? (Synthetic life)


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  1. 1. Does this achievement

    • Signal the next step in human evolution
      9
    • Signal the first step in the end of the human race
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We never went off topic as far as I am concerned but anyway..a bit more info...

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Genome from a bottle

Synthetic DNA makes cells switch species

By Laura Sanders

Web edition : 1:03 pm

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It's aliveA synthetic genome causes cells of M. capricolum (shown) to look and act like natural M. mycoides.Science/AAAS

Using a made-from-scratch genome, scientists have breathed a new kind of life into a bacterium. The feat, published May 21 in Science, holds great promise for creating designer organisms that might do things like produce vaccines, synthesize biofuels, purify water or eat spilled oil.

In the new study, researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute carefully stitched together the entire genome of the bacteria Mycoplasma mycoides and put it into a different kind of bacteria, Mycoplasma capricolum. This unprecedented wholesale genome swap caused the M. capricolum cell to switch species. The newly converted cell was nearly identical to the natural M. mycoides.

“This was a proof of concept experiment showing that we could take the sequence out of a computer, build it and boot it up to make a synthetic cell,” says study leader Daniel Gibson of the Venter Institute’s campus in Rockville, Md.

This ability to transplant complete genomes from one species to another is “a marvelous piece of work,” says bioengineer James Collins, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Boston University who was not involved in the study. “This represents an important advance for synthetic biology.”

Scientists at the Venter Institute already knew the DNA sequence of the M. mycoides genome. But they hadn’t been able to take the string of A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s stored in a computer and build the whole genetic instruction book in test tubes, put it in a cell and then show that it worked.

One of the major challenges in the new study was figuring out how to knit short pieces of DNA together in a particular order to create a large genome. Through earlier experiments, the team had found that proteins in yeast cells could quickly assemble large pieces of DNA. “We were amazed that yeast has this capacity, so we tried to push the limits,” Gibson says.

After going through three rounds of assembly in surrogate yeast cells with progressively bigger chunks of synthesized DNA, the researchers produced a record-setting genome that clocked in at 1,077,947 DNA letters. This synthetic genome was then introduced into M. capricolum cells, which began to forget their own characteristics and instead adopt the appearance and functions of the genome-donor species, M. mycoides.

“It’s still pretty stunning to me that simply by changing the software in the cell, the cell immediately starts this process of converting into another species,” J. Craig Venter says. “It’s all about how life works, how dynamic it is.”

In most ways, the man-made genome was similar to the natural one, with a few important tweaks: The scientists added DNA sequences that the genome needs to survive the yeast-based assembly step. The team also added sequences encoding a substance that causes a cell to turn blue in the presence of certain drugs, making colonies of the synthetic bug identifiable with the naked eye. And finally, four unique genetic watermarks that can be used to unambiguously distinguish a synthetic M. mycoides cell from a naturally occurring one were included.

So far, Venter and his team haven’t engineered any special properties into the synthetic genome. “This is not so much about parts as it is a chassis to put the parts into,” says technologist George Church of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Researchers have been tinkering with genes for many years, but this newfound ability to replace an entire genome is different, Venter says. Other studies typically change a small number of genes isolated from bacteria, he says. “Now we start with information in the computer. We start with digital code and create new genetic code from four bottles of chemicals [the A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s that make up DNA]. I think that’s the biggest philosophical difference.”

To some, though, this man-made genome is not technically artificial. “It’s a great feat, but I wouldn’t call it an artificial organism,” Collins says. Synthetic, he contends, implies designed from scratch, not plagiarized from a natural genome. What’s more, the experiment required a recipient cell to provide the cytoplasm to hold the transplanted genome. “It’s small, but it’s an important quibble,” he says.

To claim the creation of synthetic life, asserts Glenn McGee of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo., the entire organism must be successfully produced from raw materials.

“The landmark achievement has yet to occur,” McGee says. “What they’ve done is they’ve successfully transplanted DNA from one thing to another without noticeably harming the operation of the old DNA, as best they understand it, from their definition of its function. When I put it that way, it’s a hell of a lot less significant.”

Semantics aside, the real challenge is going to be turning this technology into something useful. “Our plan definitely is to move to the next level and make more complex and useful organisms that will have a lot of benefits to society,” Gibson says.

Designing genomes and transplanting them into microorganisms could lead to special bugs that produce vaccines, other pharmaceutical compounds and biofuels, for instance. Scientists at the Venter Institute are already working with Exxon Mobil to create bugs that slurp up carbon dioxide and convert it into clean fuel. Other applications include designer organisms that could convert wastewater into drinking water and clean up hazardous chemical spills.

Such efforts will require an incredibly detailed knowledge of the biology of the organisms, something scientists currently lack, Collins points out. “At best, we have a rudimentary understanding of these functions,” he says.

It may be that making targeted changes to existing genomes will prove just as successful as making organisms from scratch. “If the stated goal is to make useful microorganisms for commercial purposes, there are alternatives already in use,” says Harvard’s Church. “It’s not absolutely clear that suddenly a lot of people are going to adopt this method…. Nevertheless, it’s a big milestone.”

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Back on topic.

JulieB - It is almost inevitable, and incredibly unfortunate, that this kind of research will be implemented in future military technology, as is the case with all major scientific advance, but I would think that the benefits of this kind of knowledge will far outweigh the consequences. That is of course assuming that Al Qaeda don't get hold of it and create some kind of super AIDS.

Al Qaeda isn't SPECTRE. They've been spectacularly unsuccessful in terms of actually doing anything (apart from getting the West to work itself into a tizzy, which almost certainly qualifies as success in their book). I highly doubt they'll have the capacity to wage biowar within my lifetime.

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You may not WANT humanity to destroy itself but you "KNOW" it will...

How many Villa fans twelve months ago would have said "I don't want Villa to lose at Old Trafford, but I know they will"?

(and to make it even more apt, had a large bet on Villa to lose so they would "win" if Villa lost)

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You may not WANT humanity to destroy itself but you "KNOW" it will...

How many Villa fans twelve months ago would have said "I don't want Villa to lose at Old Trafford, but I know they will"?

(and to make it even more apt, had a large bet on Villa to lose so they would "win" if Villa lost)

The KNOW in my quote is in speech marks for a reason :D

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Back on topic.

JulieB - It is almost inevitable, and incredibly unfortunate, that this kind of research will be implemented in future military technology, as is the case with all major scientific advance, but I would think that the benefits of this kind of knowledge will far outweigh the consequences. That is of course assuming that Al Qaeda don't get hold of it and create some kind of super AIDS.

Al Qaeda isn't SPECTRE. They've been spectacularly unsuccessful in terms of actually doing anything (apart from getting the West to work itself into a tizzy, which almost certainly qualifies as success in their book). I highly doubt they'll have the capacity to wage biowar within my lifetime.

The Al Qaeda comment was somewhat tongue in cheek, hence the reference to super AIDS

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The Sun's take on it...

FRANKENSTEIN DOC CREATES LIFE

That headline is embarrassing! (Even for the Sun)

By EMMA MORTON, Health and Science Editor

Published: Today

Add a comment Add a comment (8)

A SCIENTIST has created life in a pioneering laboratory experiment in which a bug was "brought back from the dead".

It was last night hailed as a breakthrough that opens the door to exciting new technological advances.

But opponents of genetic engineering condemned the experiment as dangerous Frankenstein-style tampering with nature.

Maverick US biologist Dr Craig Venter first extracted the genes from a bacterium called Mycoplasma capricolum.

Then he grew strands of artificial DNA and planted them in the dead bacterium, which revived and began to multiply. Dr Venter said: "This is the first synthetic cell that's been made. It is an important step."

Artificial microbes could be developed for tasks like making vaccines or clearing pollution.

But other experts fear the technology could create biological weapons.

Professor Paul Freemont, of Imperial College London, called it "a landmark study".

He said: "This is a key step in the industrialisation of synthetic biology, leading to a new era."

Dr Eckard Wimmer, of Stony Brook University. New York, warned: "The possibility of misuse exists."

And Dr David King, of Human Genetics Alert, said scientists were "playing God".

Dr Venter insisted the bacterium he used is found in cows, not people. But a relative of it causes pneumonia in humans.

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I have done my best to edit my over zealous comments. I have no control over the stuff that has been quoted though.

Sincere apologies to Julie for any offense caused. I believe my points were valid but on reflection were uncalled for and in reality probably were off topic.

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This is an outrage.

tonyHarrison.gif

Science is wicked, I wouldn't get too worried by advancements at this stage. At least, until this shit happens:

adam.jpg

Then it's time to run to the **** hills. 8)

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Interesting.

I'm farily sure it's not anything particularly ground breaking - we've known how to do this kind of thing theoretically for donkeys IIRC. Edit - In fact, and I could be going mad here so forgive me - is there not something along a similar process that we use today to produce insulin? We 'reprogrammed', using the plasmid of an organism, a bacteria to basically produce vast amounts of insulin for us to treat diabetes with IIRC. This is simply a similar kind of idea taken to the next level.

And it represents neither of the things in the poll either, necessarily. It certainly shouldn't represent another step in human evolution - it's merely another tool for ourselves to manipulate to our own benefit. End of humanity would almsot certainly be a bit far as well.

All in all, interesting, not as special as the reports would have you make out. Might start to become genuinely useful in 20 years.

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If (when?) we were to develop it far enough to recreate a synthetic human would religious types consider that person to not have a soul?

Would the lab person be shunned from scociety or more importantly, could they be given super powers?

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Interesting.

I'm farily sure it's not anything particularly ground breaking - we've known how to do this kind of thing theoretically for donkeys IIRC. Edit - In fact, and I could be going mad here so forgive me - is there not something along a similar process that we use today to produce insulin? We 'reprogrammed', using the plasmid of an organism, a bacteria to basically produce vast amounts of insulin for us to treat diabetes with IIRC. This is simply a similar kind of idea taken to the next level.

And it represents neither of the things in the poll either, necessarily. It certainly shouldn't represent another step in human evolution - it's merely another tool for ourselves to manipulate to our own benefit. End of humanity would almsot certainly be a bit far as well.

All in all, interesting, not as special as the reports would have you make out. Might start to become genuinely useful in 20 years.

Spot on.

Nobel prize winner Sir Paul Nurse explains

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A synthetic humanoid with powers beyond the realms of humanity wouldn't be considered human, surely? We're considered human based on what our genes and what they subsequently allow us to do - there are things beyond the means of the human body, if you engineered an organism to look and seem human but be able to do super human feats, they'd genetically not be human.

But theoretically provided you could map the genome in the correct way, theres nothing to stop you making a human for scratch that could manage to do things we never could. In some cases you'd be retyping enormous amounts of the genome of course, for example if you wished to make a human that was able to jump spectacularly high, you'd end up fiddling with everything in their genes that covers stuff like skeletal strength, circulatory system, brains abaility to handle forces placed on it... etc etc, as well as just giving them leg muscles scaled up from a flea (and yes for pedants I know fleas don't actually use muscles but it was the easiest comparision to make).

As for the religious angle - who gives a shit. Hopefully it'll be dead by then.

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