The article was extremely vague about what they mean by "synthesizing from scratch". Does anyone know what the researchers actually did?
"Scratch" from "commercial" DNA and (inferred by me) a known DNA sequence for an existing/natural virus is equivalent to a complete amateur building an automobile from the blueprints and off-the-shelf parts (edit, insert) without any assembly instructions (end edit) and having it work at all, let alone safely --- not too shabby. The achievement is probably that they got everything to fold, coil, and otherwise configure itself correctly --- not obvious that they actually got it to reproduce itself --- the acid test.
Still fuzzy on how they actually made the virus from "commercial DNA" ... did they find a way to make all the proteins from the DNA template without using a living cell to do any of the work?
They had DNA fragments, and there now exist devices capable of hooking the fragments together chemically in the right order. Since this is just a virus, the DNA if valid should by itself create the proteins. I emphasize that this only works for viruses.
Years ago an experiment was done in which a virus was dissociated in one test tube, the DNA extracted by centrifuge and inserted into another test tube which had a sterile solution of the amino acids required. The DNA quickly assembled an active virus in this strile environment. See the grand old book "The Eighth Day of Creation" for a throrough account of the early days of molecular biology.
This virus achievement is a way station of the Ventner team's progress toward their ultimate goal, to replace the DNA in a bacterial cell with different DNA of their own manufacture, thus (hopefully) creating a new, engineered, species of bacteria. That will be a bigger job than the virus.
Well, not by itself. They still put the artificially-spliced DNA into the environment of a cell to translate it into proteins, right?
I haven't had the time to look at it myself, but this is from an email someone had sent to me: Cool: The first viral genome to be totally synthesized in the lab was announced by Venter et al.
Roughly 3 decades ago, Arthur Kornberg synthesized an active viral genome using purified DNA polymerase and purified viral DNA as template, work for which he was awarded the Nobel prize. In the new work by Venter et al., they synthesized an active viral genome without using a prior existing template (but using a known DNA sequence). This is proof of concept for the synthesis of a completely artificial living organism.
J. Craig Venter! The same one whole sequenced the human genome :)
*edit*: et. al. :)
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