Biology

Synthetic organism undergoes cell division in breakthrough study

Synthetic organism undergoes c...
Researchers have created a synthetic single-celled organism (not pictured) that can divide properly
Researchers have created a synthetic single-celled organism (not pictured) that can divide properly
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Researchers have created a synthetic single-celled organism (not pictured) that can divide properly
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Researchers have created a synthetic single-celled organism (not pictured) that can divide properly
A microscope image of the synthetic JCVI-Syn3A cells dividing
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A microscope image of the synthetic JCVI-Syn3A cells dividing

For the first time, a team of scientists has created a synthetic single-celled organism that can divide and grow like a regular living cell. This breakthrough could lead to designer cells that can produce useful chemicals on demand or treat disease from inside the body.

This new study, by scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MIT, builds on over a decade’s work in creating synthetic lifeforms. In 2010 a JCVI team created the world’s first cell with a synthetic genome, which they dubbed JCVI-syn1.0.

In 2016, the researchers followed that up with JCVI-syn3.0, a version where the goal was to make the organism as simple as possible. With only 473 genes, it was the simplest living cell ever known – by comparison, an E. coli bacterium has well over 4,000 genes. But perhaps it was too simple, because the cells weren’t all that effective at dividing. Rather than uniform shapes and sizes, some of them would form filaments and others wouldn’t fully separate.

So, for this newest version, named JCVI-syn3A, the team added 19 genes back into the cell, including seven that are required for regular cell division. And sure enough, the new variant was able to divide properly into uniform orbs.

A microscope image of the synthetic JCVI-Syn3A cells dividing
A microscope image of the synthetic JCVI-Syn3A cells dividing

The project can help scientists better understand the process of cell division, and joins a few other breakthroughs in synthetic and semi-synthetic organisms in recent years. In 2012 a team produced the first synthetic cell membrane. In 2017 scientists engineered extra DNA “letters” into the genetic code of a semisynthetic organism – and a few months later it produced an entirely novel protein.

In the longer run this kind of work could be a major step towards being able to engineer synthetic cells that perform specific tasks on demand. They could be used to make chemicals for food or fuels, and even act like tiny drug factories inside the body to treat diseases.

But there’s still more work to be done first, the team says. After all, of the seven cell-division-involved genes used in the organism, the team only knows what two of them actually do. Investigating the other five are the next steps.

The research was published in the journal Cell.

Source: NIST

15 comments
15 comments
CAVUMark
Wow. This is revolutionary. Hope to see updates on this.
VincentWolf
Playing god are we not?
Ron
Hate to be a pessimist, but first we create artificial intelligence that is quickly relieving the need for us to think and now we can produce cells that reproduce? Add a little more DNA research to the mixing bowl and presto digitato, you have a new human being, one that will see no need for inferior species and that will be that!
FB36
"In 2010 a JCVI team created the world’s first cell with a synthetic genome":

"Called Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 the synthetic cell is the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell controlled only by the synthetic genome."

"So, for this newest version, named JCVI-syn3A, the team added 19 genes back into the cell"

Just to be clear, this still does not look like actually creating artificial life, since it was done/started by replacing genome of a natural/living cell; NOT by starting w/ just basic/lifeless chemicals!
Catweazle
Playing God, Vincent? Perhaps we ARE God!
bwana4swahili
Researchers: "We've created life from dirt! We are Gods; hallelujah; praise us"
God: "Hold on... Now create the dirt!!"

However, in this case it is just mix and match existing biological elements.
clay
What. Could. Possibly. Go. Wrong.
clay
Gray [grey] Goo, anyone...anyone? ...Bueller?
Greg Frasier
I wonder if they will be able to grow artificial organs with this? Bet that would make a lot of money.
wolf0579
Cue the religious idiots!
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