Creation of ‘Synthetic Cell’ Holds Promise for New Types of Biofuels

J. Craig Venter, the genome pioneer, has created a “synthetic cell” by synthesizing a complete bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell. Venter’s breakthrough, reported in the online edition of Science, represents a preliminary step toward the goal of creating microbes from scratch in the lab and using them to make biofuels, vaccines, and other products.

Venter’s achievement could one day lead to a technology where, though engineering the genome, individual cells could be turned into their own miniature refineries for harvesting carbon dioxide and generating hydrocarbons.

In 2005, Venter — one of the first people to sequence the human genome, doing it faster and cheaper than government scientists — set up a company, Synthetic Genomics, to create synthetic cells, and the advance reported in Science represents a milestone for the company and for so-called synthetic biology.

Synthetic Genomics has a contract with Exxon to generate biofuels from algae.

Although some experts hailed Venter’s breakthrough, others said his approach is unpromising because it will take years to design new organisms to produce biofuels, while progress toward making biofuels is already being achieved with conventional genetic engineering approaches.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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