Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute report they are nearing their goal to create an organism whose genome has been chemically synthesized from scratch.
The first step, completed in June 2007, was to figure out how to transplant a genome from one bacterium to another. Now, researchers have chemically synthesized an entire bacterial genome (contained on a single circular chromosome of over half a million chemical letters) starting with just the A's, T's, C's and G's of the genetic alphabet. In the final step, the researchers plan to insert the artificial genome into a bacterium, and "boot up" the cell. The institute's leader, Craig Venter, predicts this final step may be accomplished by the end of 2008.
While this emerging field, known as synthetic genomics, holds great promise for developing biologically-based fuels and pharmaceuticals, there are concerns about biosafety and possible impact on our environment. A report discussing these issues can be found on the Venter Institute's website.
You can also listen to an audio interview with Craig Venter, courtesy of NPR.