Head for the hills: first new artificial life form created

venter Ready for an ethics debate? DNA researcher Craig Venter (pictured right) "has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth."

The new species is made from an artificial chromosome constructed by a team of 20 leading scientists led by Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith. The chromosome is "381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code."

It’s based on the DNA sequence for a bacterium known as "Mycoplasma genitalium" that’s been whittled down to its most basic form to include only what it needs to support life. The synthetic chromosome has been named "Mycoplasma laboratorium" and has been, get this, watermarked with ink so that it can be easily identified out in the real world.

The chromosome is transplanted into a living host cell where it then takes control of the cell, effectively changing it into a different species. So the life form itself isn’t completely 100% artificial, per se, but since its genetic makeup is based on an artificially created DNA structure that controls the cell, it can be categorized as man-made since DNA is the building block from which all life is created and maintained.

So what does this mean for you? That all depends.

Venter’s claim is that bacteria could be created to soak up carbon dioxide, which could help in the fight against global warming. Most people would agree that’s a good thing. New life-saving drugs could also be artificially created — a good thing as well.  However, artificially-created bacteria could also be used to make things like biological weapons.

The sky’s the limit, actually, according to bioethics expert Pat Mooney. He claims that Venter has created a "chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons."

While Craig Venter’s intentions seem benevolent at this point, something that might make people a bit nervous is that he’s applied to patent the synthetic bacterium. The idea that something that can be used to create just about anything else can be legally owned and controlled by a single human being is terrifying at best.

Patent reform, anyone?

I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer [The Guardian] via FOX News