Scientists create synthetic organism with smallest known genome

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In 2010, a team of scientists announced that they had created a synthetic living cell. The team, led by Nobel laureate Ham Smith, microbiologist Clyde Hutchison III, and genomics pioneer Craig Venter, fashioned the full genome of a tiny bacterium called Mycoplasma mycoides in their lab, and implanted the DNA into the empty cell of another related microbe. They nicknamed it Synthia. Some news sources claimed that the team had, for the first time, created artificial lifeOthers noted that they had merely photocopied life, putting an existing genome into a new chassis, like a “hermit crab taking up residence in an abandoned shell.”

But amid the hyperbole and skepticism, the team continued working. “The 2010 paper was basically the control experiment,” says Venter. Their true mission was to create a cell with a minimal genome.

And they’ve done it. Six years after Synthia, they’ve finally unveiled their bare-bones bacterium. And in piecing together its components, they realized that they’re nowhere close to understanding them all. Of the 473 genes in their pared-down cell, 149 are completely unknown. They seem to be essential (and more on what that means later). Many of them have counterparts that are at work in your body right now, probably keeping you alive.

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Read full, original post: The Mysterious Thing About a Marvelous New Synthetic Cell

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