03 January 2011

A Video Worth Watching from Time's Man of the Year 2010

Note: Since I posted the NASA Ames video, someone has pulled permission for both embedding and public viewing. But here is the "60 Minutes" interview filmed just after the achievement of creating a strain of mycoplasma mycoides. I'll leave the locked video here for now -- just in case the owners come to their senses.

J. Craig Venter on Synthetic Biology at NASA Ames from Ben Howard on Vimeo.

Craig Venter is Time's Man of the Year for 2010 for his team's "plug and play" creation of the first synthetic cell, Mycoplasma mycoides. This "minimal cell", a parasitic organism which can only live inside other living cells, is meant as a starting point for the creation of microscopic factory-cells.
The aim of the Venter team was.....to build a prototype for a microscopic production line. Back in May, here is what the team had to say in Science:
If the methods described here can be generalised, design, synthesis, assembly and transplantation of synthetic chromosomes will no longer be a barrier to the progress of synthetic biology … the approach we have developed should be applicable to the synthesis and transplantation of more novel genomes as genome design progresses.

So, if a microorganism could be engineered to include genes that direct the cell to do a number of functions, it would be possible to use this cell for a range of industrial tasks, such as making proteins or carbohydrates or any compounds to order, depending on demand. Theoretically, it might be possible to make biofuels, vaccines, drugs, foodstuffs and anything else genetic engineers can program the new genomes to produce.

What Venter's team really set out to do, and achieved, was show it's possible to build the world's smallest production line, inside the world's smallest factory.

Venter was not so much playing God, but following in the tradition of the great industrial pioneers of last century. He's closer to a latter day Henry Ford - the man who in the 1910s developed the production line that eventually put a car in almost every home in the Western world and became the de novo engineering tool for the mass production of everything from ice cream to tweezers.

What happens next depends on how Venter and others working in this new field can tool up this tiny production line. _Cosmos
"Synthetic Biology" is a far more clever and descriptive term than "metabolic engineering." The word "synthetic" does double duty, since not only are new biological factories to be synthetically generated, but these biological factories are to be used to synthesise valuable chemicals, materials, fuels, and drugs.

We are seeing the preface to the first chapter of a multi-volume work. Much more to come.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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