Translation and synthetic life

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It’s interesting to observe just how explicit the ANT notion of translation (no transportation without transformation) becomes in synthetic biology. J Craig Venter and his colleagues seem to be doing nothing else but transformations in order to ensure the transportation of a synthetic genome into a living bacterium. According to The Scientist Blog, this translation involved the following steps:

Last year, Venter … reported that he and his collaborators had created a synthetic bacterial genome and cloned it into a yeast cell. However, they were unable to transfer the genome into a cell that would use the genetic code to produce a functioning version of the organism. In the current paper, the researchers present a technique for doing just that.

The Venter team first cloned the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides into a yeast cell. They then altered the genome, using the myriad tools available for yeast gene manipulation. In the procedure’s trickiest step, they transplanted the yeast-bound bacterial genome into a closely related bacterium, Mycoplasma capricolum, coaxing it to “take this bacterial genome and boot it up” and generate their mutant strain (…).

The hurdle Vashee and his team had to overcome to achieve this feat involved bypassing the bacterial equivalent of an immune system — essentially a collection of restriction enzymes. These enzymes, thought to have evolved to chew up the genomes of viruses infecting bacterial cells, were preventing the successful transplantation of the modified M. mycoides genome into wild-type M. capricolum. So the group developed two fixes, which together solved the problem: First, they inactivated M. capricolum’s restriction enzymes. Then, they chemically modified their mutant M. mycoides genome where these enzymes typically cleave the genomes of intruders.

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