Thursday, 20 May 2010

First Cell Controlled by Synthetic Genome

Scientists have developed the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome. They now hope to use this method to better understand the basic machinery driving all life and to engineer bacteria specially outfitted for fuel production, for example, or environmental cleanup.

The research team has already chemically synthesized a bacterial genome, and they have transplanted the genome of one bacterium to another. Now, Daniel Gibson and colleagues have put both methods together, to create what they call a “synthetic cell,” although only its genome is synthetic. In this case, the synthetic genome was a copy of an existing genome, though with added DNA sequences that “watermark” the genome to distinguish it from a natural one.

In the future, the scientists would like to design more novel genomes that would make bacteria capable of performing specific tasks that could help solve energy, environmental or other problems. The team first synthesized the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, then transplanted it into Mycoplasma capricolum. The new genome “booted up” the recipient cells.

Although fourteen genes were deleted or disrupted in the transplant bacteria, they still looked like normal M. mycoides bacteria and produced only M. mycoides proteins, the authors report. “If the methods described here can be generalized, design, synthesis , assembly and transplantation of synthetic chromosomes will no longer be a barrier to the progress of synthetic biology,” they write.

To support public discussion and understanding of synthetic biology, Science will be making this paper and the accompanying News piece freely available online, at, starting Thursday evening, 20 May.

Article #19: "Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome," by D. Gibson; J.I. Glass; C. Lartigue; V.N. Noskov; R.-Y. Chuang; M.A. Algire; M.G. Montague; L. Ma; M.M. Moodie; C. Merryman; S. Vashee; R. Krishnakumar; N. Assad-Garcia; C. Andrews-Pfannkoch; E.A. Denisova; L. Young; Z.-Q. Qi; T.H. Segall-Shapiro; C.H. Calvey; P.P. Parmar; J.C. Venter at J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD; G.A. Benders; C.A. Hutchinson III; H.O. Smith; J.C. Venter at J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego, CA.

Contact: J. Craig Venter at (email). Daniel Gibson at (email).

Reproduced from email by the AAAS Office of Public Programs.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Down the glen

Photo by Douglas Blane. Killearn Glen
Killearn Glen May 2010

According to recent research, just five minutes a day of moderate exercise in green spaces has a measurable effect on human beings - of which I am one. So I decided to include a walk in the village glen in my early morning routine - which is how I like to think of my daily, aimless shambling around and bumping into furniture.

The sun-dappled leaves, the blackbird's song, the bluebell banks were all wonderful, but I now have a problem. Morning before breakfast is precisely the time when my brain works best and the words come easily.

I first noticed this when laid up after spinal surgery and memorised huge swathes of poetry, from Morte d'Arthur and the Lady of Shalott to Tam o' Shanter and The Cremation of Sam McGee.

It was very easy until I'd eaten, when lines I'd just memorised suddenly had big holes in them, and I'd have to start all over again. I'm guessing it's the difference between the brain getting all the blood and oxygen it needs and having to compete with other parts of the body. It was a repeatable effect and one I've confirmed many times since.

So here's the problem - walk in the glen in the morning sun, which makes me feel great, or write, which I also enjoy, pays the mortgage and puts food on the table?

It's not easy being a writer.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

New Labour is a deadly parasite.

George Monbiot had a fantastic piece on New Labour's record, who they are and what they stand for, in the Guardian Mon 3 May 2010.

Here are his most telling - and shocking - paragraphs:

"While Labour has liberated billionaires, it has trussed up the rest of us with 3,500 new criminal offences, including provisions that allow the police to declare any demonstration illegal. It has introduced control orders that place people under permanent house arrest without charge or trial. It has allowed the US to extradite our citizens without producing evidence of an offence. It has colluded in kidnapping and torture. Britain now has more CCTV cameras than any other nation, and a DNA database that is five times the size of its nearest competitor. The number of prisoners in the UK has risen by 41% since Labour took office.

This government blocked a ceasefire in the Lebanon; sacked Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan after he complained that the regime was boiling its prisoners to death; gave aid to a Colombian military that collaborates with fascist death squads; announced a policy of pre-emptive nuclear war; and decided to waste our money on replacing Trident. But worse, far worse than any of this, it launched an illegal war in which hundreds of thousands have died. This is the government that colleagues of mine on the Guardian want to save.

There's a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that colonises the brains of rats, altering their behaviour to attract them to the scent of their predators. The rats seek out cats and get eaten, allowing the parasite to keep circulating. This is New Labour. It has colonised a movement that fought for social justice, distribution and decency, rewired its brain and delivered it to the fat cats who were once its enemies."