Saturday, June 30, 2007

Gene Swap Meet

Sorry it has been so long since our last post.

This has been a very crazy week for me that I can most aptly describe with a quote from Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters when he described "...human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria!"

Anyways, I am glad the week is over. We hope to get back to more regular posting again.

While I am admittedly tired of talking about genetics here, I am going to address the subject at least 3 more times in the near future. We have two more posts to go in our State of the Art series and we have the post that I am about to write.

Currently in the news, we are hearing about steps closer to "artificial life". The idea of artificial life is an odd one to me since life can largely be catagorized as a binary state, alive or not alive. It seems difficult to me to be artificially alive. Oh, I know many of you will want to nitpick about grey areas like viruses and such, but that's a completely different question. My bottom line is that life is real or not alive. There will never be artificial life. Ah, the wonders of semantics.

So what am I talking about here? What is the big news? Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland have published a paper in Science explaining how they transfered an entire genome from one species of bacteria (Mycoplasma mycoides) into a population of a completely different species of bacteria (Mycoplasma capricolum). On the surface, this might seem unremarkable since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996 by transferring the entire genetic code of one sheep into a sheep egg cell. However, up until now, no cells of one species have been made to "engraft" an entirely transplanted genome of another species.

While the idea that this will lead to "artificial life" is somewhat absurd since the concept doesn't really exist, this is exciting because it could be a first step toward creating novel organisms specifically designed for a human need. Imagine a bacteria that could be designed to metabolize sugar and produce propane for fuel. While I am not sure that is an attainable endeavor, Venter seems to think it is. I imagine, to him, this publication is one more step in the right direction. Not sure it is the right direction, but it is definately a step toward his goals.

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