In a breakthrough for artificial life, scientists have created a single cell of yeast with a complete set of artificial DNA that functions and looks exactly like a natural cell of yeast. Spearheaded by Dr. Craig Venter and his team of scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute, the project has far reaching — not to mention philosophically questionable — implications. But if used in a controlled way, this remarkable breakthrough could revolutionize the medical and energy industries.

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To create the cell, the J Craig Venter team assembled a set of DNA one million units in length that directly mirrored an actual strand of yeast DNA. They they replaced a regular yeast cell’s DNA with the artificially created DNA and the yeast cell began to act like a natural cell would. Dr. Venter called the cell, “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” Dr. Venter eventually would like to take control over the entire genome of the cells he creates and thus could genetically engineer a cell to meet his goals of creating an extremely high yielding biofuel, or create a cell that could suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This project was paid for by Dr. Venter’s company Synthetic Genomics but Exxon has already signed a contract with them for $600 million dollars for research into biofuel from algae – if Dr. Venter’s group meets all of their milestones.

The advancement was just published in the Journal of Science, and Dr. Venter and his team are now fielding a barrage of questions asking about the implications of this breakthrough. Some people wonder if he is toying with a Pandora’s box. No one knows how these artificially directed cells will behave in nature and we are hoping researchers will keep them exclusively in labs until they can figure that out. All of the philosophical questions aside, this could be a major breakthrough in the production of renewable energy and the reduction of atmospheric pollution. “If we can really get cells to do the production that we want, they could help wean us off oil and reverse some of the damage to the environment by capturing carbon dioxide,” Dr. Venter told BBC about his discovery.

+ The J Craig Venter Institute

Via The BBC