In May 2010 it was announced that the first synthetic cell containing a complete man-made genome had been successfully developed by Dr. Craig Venter and his colleagues in a fifteen year $40 million project at the Venter Institute in Maryland and San Diego, USA. The synthetic cell is a living organism that can replicate itself. This stunning breakthrough in genetic engineering has huge potential benefits for mankind as well as potential dangers. What happens if an artificial life form infects or kills existing life forms with its artificial DNA? The creation of the synthetic cell is therefore under intense bioethical scrutiny from governments and environmental groups.
The original spur for biological research and development was unlimited energy through artificial algae that can make replenishable fuel products. The focus now is on determining the simplest genome that can exist and then introduced desired genes to generate unique organisms to perform any number of tasks. Currently under consideration are antiviral vaccines that can be made much faster with synthetic cells. At the moment rhinovirus (the common cold) and HIV (Aids) elude treatment by vaccine because they mutate too rapidly for vaccines made by conventional means.
The advent of the synthetic cell has opened up the possibility of making synthetic copies of an individual’s chromosomes and translating them into a person’s aberrant cells to take over lost function and restore health. This has great potential for anti-aging therapies.
This major breakthrough in biological science will...