Synthetic biology studies how to build artificial biological systems.
Early in 2006, Dr. Jay Keasling, director of the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology, and three post-doctoral researchers discovered and re-engineered a yeast containing bacterial and wormwood genes into a chemical factory to produce a precursor to artemisinin for use as an inexpensive anti-malarial drug.
In June 2007, the JCVI developed genome transplantation methods to transform one type of bacteria into another type dictated by the transplanted chromosome and published their results in the journal Science.
In January 2008, the JCVI created the first synthetic bacterial genome, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0, representing the largest man-made DNA structure (also published in Science). Genome transplantation, synthesis and assembly are essential enabling steps toward the ultimate goal of a fully synthetic, activated cell.
In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) announced the world’s first synthetic life form; the single-celled organism based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from three chemicals in the laboratory. The single-cell organism has four “watermarks,” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic.
It took the Venter Institute 15 years to complete this initial project. Much more work needs to be done before scientists can perfect techniques to synthesize novel genomes for microbes or cells.