I was watching the video at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17436365

The speaker says that a cell is taken and its original DNA content is stripped out and replaced with synthetic DNA.

Does this mean scientists are not able to create a synthetic cell yet? Is this why they use existing cells, stripping them out and replacing the DNA?


The J. Craig Venter Institute recently has indeed created a synthetic, self-replicating cell (see the press release). So it's definitely not impossible to create completely synthetic cells for use in synthetic biology, but that doesn't mean it makes much sense to do so. E. coli in particular have been used as bench tools for decades: lots of protocols exist for using them in the lab, their genome has been extensively sequenced and is well studied, and they're cheap. I'm not a bench biologist anymore, but I'm guessing these are the reasons they stripped living bacteria and replaced their DNA rather than trying to build a completely synthetic microbe from scratch.

  • $\begingroup$ From the article: "The complete synthetic M. mycoides genome was isolated from the yeast cell and transplanted into Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cells that have had the genes for its restriction enzyme removed." It seems to me that a fully synthetic cell (synthetically made lipids, proteins, etc) are still a long way off, but it it is still impressive to reprogram a cell by a complete substitution of one genome for another. $\endgroup$ – user560 Mar 27 '12 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ @leonardo Good point. I guess there is some room for debate as to how truly synthetic the JCVI microbes are. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Standage Mar 27 '12 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ It's true. It strikes me as a compelling engineering challenge to have to synthesize all of the other components that come along with a cell. The transplant and donor species would have to be very close evolutionary relatives when only swapping nuclear genomes. If they weren't, then everything from structural protein interactions and lipid profiles of membranes would be completely off and the cell would fail to function. $\endgroup$ – user560 Mar 27 '12 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ May also find V.natriegens interesting. It's not as well documented as E.coli but makes for a good teaching subject because of its rapid growth (Td ~ 10min). $\endgroup$ – Armatus Jun 5 '12 at 16:30

There is this guy, Martin Hanczyc, working on protocells to better understand how the beginning of life occurred. He makes synthetic protocells. They don't have any DNA in them but they are pretty cool and maybe the beginnings to making synthetic cells. Perhaps once science has figured out how cells began and their very minimal needs they can create completely synthetic cells.


Also, just thinking, what would we consider completely synthetic cells? If we took synthetic protocells and they eventually evolved into a cell with DNA would that still be synthetic?


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