There is a report on the Guardian Website that a contraversial American scientist is about to declare that his team have created the first artificial life. Craig Venter has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals. It’s not like he has built some sort of monster – he has created a chomosome which is based on the DNA of a bacteria. The DNA has been pared down to the minimum needed and then re-introduced to another bacteria, effectively making a new species. The chromosome has 381 genes and 580,000 base pairs. It is called bacterium laboratorium and although the contents of the cell which will allow the DNA to replicate are not synthetic the actual genetic material is.

How this will be reported will be interesting to watch. Shrieking headlines about Chimera or Frankenstein type science and scientists playing god will no doubt appear. However, if it turns out to be true, it could be used for numerous roles. What the effect will be on the ecology though is a different matter and although he speculates that a bacterium could be engineered to mop up excess carbon dioxide in the atmostphere, what effect would introducing a totally new synthetic bacteria have on the ecosystem.

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