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Scientists play God; create first synthetic cell

In a major breakthrough, scientists have for the first time created a synthetic cell, controlled by man-made genetic instructions, which can also reproduce itself.

world Updated: May 21, 2010 19:10 IST

In a major breakthrough, scientists have for the first time created a synthetic cell, controlled by man-made genetic instructions, which can also reproduce itself.

"We call it the first synthetic cell," said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. "These are very much real cells".

Developed at a cost of $30 million by the researchers at J. Craig Venter Institute, the experimental one-cell organism opens the way to manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to experts, scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for many years, producing genetically engineered plants and animals, but the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life. However, the achievement documented in the journal Science, may stir nagging questions of ethics, law and public safety about artificial life.

"This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature," said molecular biologist Richard Ebright at Rutgers University, who wasn't involved in the project.

"It has the potential to transform genetic engineering. The research is going to explode once you can create designer genomes," David Magnus, director of the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, was quoted as saying.

The new cell, a form of bacteria, was conceived solely as a demonstration project, though several biologists were certain that the laboratory technique used to birth it would soon be applied to other strains of bacteria with commercial potential, the paper said.