Skip to comments.Man-made microbe 'to create endless biofuel' ["God has competition."]
Posted on 06/07/2007 11:24:50 PM PDT by bruinbirdman
A scientist is poised to create the world's first man-made species, a synthetic microbe that could lead to an endless supply of biofuel.
Craig Venter, an American who cracked the human genome in 2000, has applied for a patent at more than 100 national offices to make a bacterium from laboratory-made DNA.
It is part of an effort to create designer bugs to manufacture hydrogen and biofuels, as well as absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases.
DNA contains the instructions to make the proteins that build and run an organism.
The J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, is applying for worldwide patents on what it refers to as "Mycoplasma laboratorium". based on DNA assembled by scientists. Yesterday, Mr Venter said: "It is only an application on methods."
As for whether the world's first synthetic bug was thriving in a test tube in Rockville, all he would say was: "We are getting close."
The Venter Institute's US Patent application claims exclusive ownership of a set of essential genes and a synthetic "free-living organism that can grow and replicate" that is made using those genes.
To create the synthetic organism his team is making snippets of DNA, known as oligonucleotides or "oligos", of up to 100 letters of DNA.
To build a primitive bug, with about 500 genes in half a million letters of DNA, Mr Venter's team is stitching together blocks of 50 or so letters, then growing them in the gut bug E coli. Then they turn these many small pieces into a handful of bigger ones until eventually two pieces can be assembled into the circular genome of the new life form.
The synthetic DNA will be added to a test tube of bacteria and the team hopes that one or more microbes among the one hundred thousand million starts moving, metabolising and multiplying.
The Canadian ETC Group, which tracks developments in biotechnology, believes that this development in synthetic biology is more significant than the cloning of Dolly the sheep a decade ago.
Yesterday, an ETC spokesman, Jim Thomas, called on the world's patent offices to reject the applications.
He said: "These monopoly claims signal the start of a high-stakes commercial race to synthesise and privatise synthetic life forms. Will Venter's company become the 'Microbesoft' of synthetic biology?" A colleague, Pat Mooney, said: "For the first time, God has competition. Venter and his colleagues have breached a societal boundary, and the public hasn't even had a chance to debate the far-reaching social, ethical and environmental implications of synthetic life."
However, Mr Venter did ask a panel of experts to examine the implications of creating synthetic life. His institute convened a bioethics committee to see if its plans were likely to raise objections.
The committee, led by Mildred Cho at Stanford University, had no objections to the work but pointed out that scientists must take responsibility for any impact their new organisms had if they got out of the lab. The organisms can be designed to die as soon as they leave laboratory conditions.
Mr Venter first announced the project to build a synthetic life form in 2002. In theory, by adding functionalised synthetic DNA, the bacterium could be instructed to produce plastics, drugs or fuels.
Mr Venter's institute claims that its stripped-down microbe could be the key to cheap energy production. The patent application specifically claims an organism that can make either hydrogen or ethanol for industrial fuels. The research was partially funded by the US Department of Energy.
This could be the real “Ice-9” of Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle
He was the president and founder of Celera Genomics, which was very successful. Let's not be so dramatic.
Sounds like a good novel.
Now I;m no biologist but wouldn’t there be a risk in engineering a synthetic life form and introducing it to the environment? How can they control it? What if it mutates into something harmful?
What if it IS something harmful ?
The concept of putting specialized DNA into bacteria or other cells (often, by means of viruses) in order to get certain properties or capabilities isn’t new. He could patent his method for getting his particular modified germ, and patent that germ much as a nursery patents its fruit or vegetable plants, but couldn’t prevent others from creating modified germs by other methods.
a.) God has NO competition, but Pat Mooney has an overactive hyperbole gland.
b.) A custom-designed microbe that eats liberals while producing biofuel suitable for motor vehicles would be a true “win win” product.
ETC might want to share it royalty free with the world.
Heck, why can’t we all file for DNA patents? It would deflate the market.
I’m always in favor of competition. If God can’t compete, He’s got only Himself to blame.
I was thinking more along the lines of Michael Chrichton’s “Andromeda Strain”.
God gives two options: (1) obey; or (2) make a monstrous mockery of yourself and whatever you touch.
LOL! From your lips to God’s ears.
Funny. That’s the same two options Microsoft used to give in the second half of the 90’s.
God had the post of King of the Universe first.
If the headline makes you hopeful, why am I so frightened? I've seen "mankind" in action before. How about that Kudzu? Wonderful, eh?
He’s either got to deliver on the kinds of organisms we need or stand aside and let someone else do it.
There’s no reason to protect Him from market forces. If others can do it better and cheaper, He’s had his day, just like Henry Ford.
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