A team of researchers working under J. Craig Venter was able to take a bacterium and replace its genome with synthetic DNA they had developed using computer code. In creating a custom species of bacteria, the company has opened new doors to genetic engineering and advanced the field of synthetic biology, which has been focused on a number of life sciences projects.
"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome," Venter said. "This is an important step, we think, both scientifically and philosophically. It's certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."
This new synthetic cell has no commercial use, but now that the team has accomplished this proof-of-concept work, Venter--who has worked toward this moment for the past 15 years--is already beavering away at new organisms that can be used to make gasoline. Venter and his colleagues signed their work, writing their names into the DNA of the new cell. This new bacteria, and all of the ones to follow, will also be similarly stamped. All new life forms will be owned by their creators.
"We have now accomplished the last piece on the list that was required to do what ethicists called 'playing God,'" writes Glenn McGee, the founder of the American Journal of Bioethics. "What that literally means is the capacity to be a creator."