Bioethics Blogs

Is progress being made towards the creation of artificial life?

¿Se avanza hacia la creación de vida artificial?

Recent press reports have highlighted what appears to be a major advance towards the creation of artificial life, when they reported the total synthesis of the first chromosome of an organism, a yeast, that is biologically more similar to humans than to bacteria[1]. The study was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins and New York universities in the United States, in what was an interesting innovation in the approach to this type of research. The new chromosome has substantial differences with respect to the original model. These modifications, which result in it being roughly 14% shorter, were introduced in order to make it more stable and flexible from a genetic point of view. According to the authors, this flexibility will enable it to be modified in vivo to change a specific property aimed at, for example, the production of antibiotics or biofuels. Although the synthetic chromosome has several differences with respect to the original, the yeasts that contain it are biologically indistinguishable from natural yeasts.

This is one further step in the field of Synthetic Biology, which already had huge media coverage in 2010, with the synthesis of the first whole genome[2]. At that time it was Craig Venter’s group who made a copy of a bacterial chromosome that was shown to be perfectly functional, as in the case of the yeast. Interestingly, the size of the bacterial molecule was four times larger than the one synthesised now and essentially identical to the original, unlike the yeast chromosome, which is significantly different.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.