TO MANUFACTURE BIOFUEL
A scientist is poised to create
the world’s first man-made species, a
synthetic microbe that could lead to an endless
supply of biofuel.
Craig Venter, an American who
cracked the human genome in 2000, has applied
for a patent at more than 100 national offices
to make a bacterium from laboratory-made DNA.
It is part of an effort to
create designer bugs to manufacture hydrogen
and biofuels, as well as absorb carbon dioxide
and other harmful greenhouse gasses.
DNA contains the instructions
to make the proteins that build and run and
organism.The J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville,
Maryland, is applying for worldwide patents
on what it refers to as “Mycoplasma laboratorium
“based on DNA assembled by scientists.
Venter said: “it is only an application
on methods”. As for whether the world’s
first synthetic bug was thriving in a test tube
in Rockville, all he would say was: “We
are getting close”.
The Venter Institute’s
US Patent application Claims exclusive ownership
of a set of essential genes and a synthetic
“free-living organisms that can grow that
replicate” that is made using those genes.To
create the synthetic organism his team is making
snippets of DNA, known as oligonucleotides or
“oligos”, of up to 100 letters of
The Candian ETC Group, which
tracks developments in biotechnology, believes
that this development in synthetic biology is
more significant than the cloning of Dolly the
sheep a decade ago.On Wednesday, and ETC spokes
man, Jim Thomas, called on the world’s
patent offices to reject the applications.
He said: “These monopoly
claims signal the start of high stakes commercial
race to synthesise and privatise synthetic life
forms. Will Venter’s company become the
‘Microbesoft’ of synthetic biology?”A
colleague, Pat Mooney, said: “For the
first time, God has competition, Venter and
his colleagues have breached a societal boundary,
and the public hasn’t even had a chance
to debate the far-reaching social, ethical and
environmental implications of synthetic life.