Scientists Create Synthetic Life: A Breakthrough in Genetic Engineering
In a remarkable feat of scientific achievement, a team of over twenty researchers has successfully created a new form of life. This groundbreaking organism, known as “Laboratory mycoplasma,” exhibits all the characteristics of a living organism. Unlike other microorganisms that have evolved naturally, this organism was meticulously designed and brought to life through a series of genetics projects that required years of research and millions of dollars in investment.
The project aimed to study the minimum number of genes necessary for an organism to sustain life, including the ability to feed, reproduce, and interact with its environment. To achieve this, the team focused on organisms with the smallest known genomes at the time and identified non-essential genes that could be eliminated without compromising survival.
The Creation of Synthetic Life
One of the organisms chosen for this project was Mycoplasma genitalium, a bacteria with just over 500 genes in its genome. Humans, in comparison, have approximately 20,000 protein-coding genes. However, due to the slow growth rate of M. genitalium, the researchers decided to replace it with a similar bacteria called M. Mycoides, which had a larger genome.
The team embarked on the challenging task of assembling DNA fragments, ranging from 5000 to 7000 base pairs, to create the complete genome of the organism. They also introduced specific markers and inscriptions in the genetic code to indicate its artificial nature. After several attempts, they successfully inserted the complete genome into the genome of another bacteria, M. capricolum, effectively giving birth to the first living bacteria designed on a computer.
While some geneticists argue that this organism cannot be considered entirely synthetic since it is a reconstruction of an existing microorganism, the project paved the way for further advancements. In 2016, the team presented a version with only 473 genes, known as JCVI-syn3.0, which is recognized as the first completely synthetic bacteria.
The Synthetic Family Grows
Although JCVI-syn3.0 is the first synthetic bacteria, it is not the first artificial organism. In 2003, Nobel Prize winner Hamilton O. Smith and researcher Clyde A. Hutchison synthesized the genome of a bacteriophage virus called PhiX174. However, PhiX174 has significantly fewer base pairs compared to JCVI-syn3.0 and can only reproduce by infecting bacteria.
Advancements in gene editing tools have enabled scientists to make precise changes to DNA and modify cell characteristics. Some research groups are even attempting to design microorganisms from scratch, offering unprecedented control over cellular function. These organisms could potentially revolutionize industrial production processes, making them more efficient and sustainable.
One More Evolutionary Leap
A recent breakthrough has captured the attention of the scientific community. Research centers from around the world have successfully recreated the 16 chromosomes that make up the genome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a well-known yeast used in bread and beverage production. They have also managed to introduce 7.5 synthetic chromosomes into the yeast, resulting in more than 50% of the yeast genome being artificial.
This achievement marks the first time such a high percentage of a eukaryotic cell has been modified. The researchers believe that understanding and controlling the genome of S. cerevisiae can lead to the development of new food, chemical, and pharmaceutical products.
The newly created yeast, known as Sc2.0, exhibits unprecedented characteristics. Researchers have designed a special chromosome that contains all the genes responsible for Transfer RNA, a molecule crucial for protein production. They have also introduced a system called SCRaMbLE, which allows genes to mix and reorganize, creating controlled diversity within the yeast population.
To insert artificial chromosomes into the yeast, the researchers created 16 different yeast strains, each with one synthetic chromosome. After careful selection and reproduction, they obtained yeasts with an increasing number of synthetic chromosomes. The ultimate goal is to create the first 100% synthetic eukaryotic organism, opening up endless possibilities for the production of various molecules, including drugs, bioplastics, and biofuels.