Culture

First successful gene transplant a success

The species was changed. But it's controversial.

It stated as Mycoplasma capricolum. Then, after all of its genes were removed and replaced with other genetic material, it was a Mycoplasma mycoides.

Carole Lartigue and a group of scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have successfully completed the first gene transplant and in the process changed a species of bacteria from one to another, the institute said on Thursday.

Scientists for years have grafted genes from one species to another to create drought-resistant plants or antibiotics. But this is the first time that someone has completed a full genetic swap.

The accomplishment will help expand the field of synthetic biology, in which scientists are trying to replicate natural processes or recreate naturally occurring in the lab with either lab equipment or collections of genes. Venter is behind Synthetic Genomics, which wants to exploit synthetic biology for producing ethanol or improve oil and gas extraction, but there are several other companies in the field as well.

The field has also attracted a large number of skeptics and critics, who argue that scientists may create Frankenbugs.