On Day 2 of TED Craig Venter talked about the current work his institute is undertaking. Since the sequencing of the human genome about eleven years ago, and the subsequent sequencing of a vast number of new genomes, work continues on a three step process to create a synthetic organism. Step one involved the methods and techniques to change one bacterial species into another. Step Two, recently completed, involved the very large scale chemical and biological synthesis of the 582,970 base pair genome of the bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium. This was an extraordinary feat involving the the large scale chemical synthesis of DNA fragments, and the use of existing and new biological techniques (e.g. using D. Radiodurans to assemble the largest DNA fragments) to “stitch” the fragments together. With this recent success, Venter’s team is now working on the last step of the process – to transplant a fully synthetic bacterial chromosome into a living organism and have it “boot up” the host cell.
Venter’s team has made great strides in understanding the various processes within cells and the genes that control those processes. His new company, Synthetic Genomics, will conduct combinatorial genomics using a collection of ~20 million genes to produce new organisms that will produce among aother things, new biofuels and new antibiotics. If you want to hear some recent talks by Venter, there are many available online. One can be found at PopTech here, as well as the TED Talk below.