The group was able to create the first non-biological, self-replicating species on Earth, by synthesizing a bacterial genome from scratch, and then allowing it to take over a cell.
Investigators responsible for this feat were led by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, the founder and leader of the J. Craig Venter Institute. This is a non-profit genomics research institute dedicated to research in genomics, its societal implications, and its potential applications.
Scientists with the Institute were also involved with the creation of the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell in the world. This achievement was announced on May 20, 2010, and elicited reactions from all circles, including US President Barack Obama.
Now, the same team strikes again. What the experts did was basically use a computer to develop a bacteria-like genome, and then constructed it from scratch. The construct was then inserted into a cell that had its own genetic material removed beforehand.
This is “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” Dr. Craig Venter says. But there are those who say that his line of work is dangerous, and potentially threatening for the world's future.
Unlike any other technology that came before, synthetic self-replicating organisms can, well, self-replicate. Advanced robots can do the same too, as can structures used in nanotechnology applications.
This means that it's a lot easier for experts to lose control over their own creations. But people are not accustomed to think about the individual importance of each scientific breakthrough, given the large number of innovations that are announced every single day.
Venter himself synthesized the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, a dangerous parasite that targets vertebrates, and which is resistant to a large number of antibiotics, Daily Galaxy reports.
But the genomics pioneer is convinced that things are looking up. “This is an important step, we think, both scientifically and philosophically,” he explained in an interview for Science. The journal is publishing his discoveries this week.
“It’s certainly changed my views of definitions of life and of how life works,” the expert concludes.