Creating the first synthetic life form

The University of British Columbia is working on the first human-made species — a microbe made from scratch. The project is being spearheaded by Craig Venter, who gained fame by completing a privately-owned map of the human genome in 2000.

Several groups are trying to make synthetic genes in hopes of constructing microbes that perform useful tasks, such as producing industrial chemicals, clean energy or drugs. The Columbia team is pushing the technology to its limits by trying to put together an entirely synthetic genome.

They are working to construct a simpler version of the bacteria known as Mycoplasma genitalium, a single-cell bacterium with just one chromosome and 517 genes. The researchers believe their version will be able to survive with only 250 to 400 genes — each of which they are making themselves, one chemical piece at a time.

For sparking life in a lab-made genome, they plan to use high-voltage electricity to zap open a host bacteria and slowly infuse it with small pieces of new DNA.

Via PhysOrg The Globe and Mail.