Researchers have made a huge breakthrough after harnessing one of the most basic building blocks of life.
Researchers have synthesized a new cell that holds the smallest genome of any single organism known to man. According to a report from Scientific American, the breakthrough has presented scientists with a bacteria cell that functions with just 473 genes.
The development is a huge one because it has whittled down life to the smallest collection of essential genes. This could one day allow scientists to begin building new organisms from the ground up, which has huge implications across a wide range of industries.
Genomics entrepreneur Craig Venter has been trying to nail down the basic building blocks of life for quite some time now. His company focuses on creating customized cells that are used for medications, fuels, and a number of other products.
Venter’s research team at the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, CA first synthesized cells in 2010, when they inserted an existing bacterial genome into a separate cell. The recent development is nothing like the team’s 2010 work, however; Venter says the new synthetic cell is its own artificial species.
The work comes at a time when genetic editing tools are making it easier than ever to tweak the building blocks of life. The CRISPR-Cas9 tool, one of the most popular means of editing genes available today, has allowed thousands of people to open new avenues of research previously though impossible. Synthesizing genomes from scratch, however, is an entirely different story.
The design is called JCVI-syn3.0, and can replicate in just 3 hours. The team broke previous attempts at synthesizing cells into eight different segments of DNA and mixed and matched them until they began to produce viable living cells. They were able to delete duplicate and non-essential genes until they were left with the 473 that made up the new artificial species.
The genes of syn3.0 are primarily responsible for making proteins, copying DNA and constructing cell membranes. The team was still unable to identify the function of 149 of the genes found within syn3.0, many of which are also present in the human genome. The scientists hope to continue to refine their developments and reach a new understanding of life’s basic building blocks.
A press release from the J. Craig Venter Institute describing the breakthrough study can be found here.