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Scientists create semi-synthetic bacterium with the smallest genome

A team of scientists have created a genome with just 473 genes, and has named it ‘minimal genome.’ The bacterium was able to metabolize nutrients and self-replicate with the smallest genome, when compared to the thousands present in wild bacteria.synthetic-cell-768x432

Lead researchers, Clyde Hutchison and J. Craig Venter said that they have been working to create an organism with the smallest genome, since the 1990s. In 1995, Venter said that a synthetic organism could be created with 256 genes, but it was not possible. The microbial bacterium was transferred into a host cell, using electric current, and was “made from scratch with four bottles of chemicals.” Venter added that it took several attempts to get them right.

“Our long-term vision has been to design and build synthetic organisms on demand where you can add in specific functions and predict what the outcome is going to be,” said study’s co-author Dan Gibson.

The team wanted to create a cell that has only had required genes, to support life. The synthetic cell called JCVI-syn3.0, has one-third of gene unaccounted for as scientists are yet to find out the function of 149 genes. The creation of a minimal genome, will now help the team to create designer life forms. However, researchers still hope to bring down the genome to minimum components; helping scientists to decode the basic building blocks of life. The team mentioned that they learned some “important and humbling lessons about the essence of life.”

Venter’s Institute is also working on a prototype of a device that aims to send digital translations of DNA across the world. Though they are focusing on basic science now, the researchers aim to create tailor-made applications in medicine, biofuels and agriculture. The study has been published in the journal Science.

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