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Researchers in Maryland unleash synthetic DNA

Largest ever, man-made DNA structure created, according to Craig Venter Institute


Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute have created the largest man-made DNA structure to date, putting them one step closer to producing a completely synthetic organism, according to the institute.

The work, published online by Dan Gibson, Ph.D. in the journal Science, raises hopes for benefits like new drugs and pollution scarfing micro-organisms while spooking some with visions of biological warfare and patent wielding corporations controlling all future forms of synthetic life.

The researchers chemically created DNA fragments in the lab then used homologous recombination (a process that cells use to repair damage to their chromosomes) in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to rapidly build the entire bacterial chromosome from large sub-assemblies, according to the press release. "This extraordinary accomplishment is a technological marvel that was only made possible because of the unique and accomplished JCVI team," said president and founder J. Craig Venter.

Venter dismisses concerns that what JCVI is really creating is the "microbesoft" of synthetic life. His team has long been concerned with the societal issues surrounding its work and has undergone"significant ethical review" by experts who founds no reason why work should cease "as long as the scientists involved continued to engage public discussion," according to the JCVI Web site.

Critics remain unimpressed. "Venter is claiming bragging rights to the world's longest length of synthetic DNA, but size isn't everything. The important question is not 'how long?' but 'how wise?'" said Jim Thomas in a bio-watchdog article castigating Venter.

"While synthetic biology is speeding ahead in the lab and in the marketplace, societal debate and regulatory oversight is stalled and there has been no meaningful or inclusive discussion on how to govern synthetic biology in a safe and just way. In the absence of democratic oversight profiteering industrialists are tinkering with the building blocks of life for their own private gain."

Next step would be to insert the synthetic DNA into living cells and hope it becomes the world's first artificially created, self-replicating organism.