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Scientists Create First Self-Replicating Synthetic Life

Man-made DNA has booted up a cell for the first time.

In a feat that is the culmination of two and a half years of tests and adjustments, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute inserted artificial genetic material — chemically printed, synthesized and assembled — into cells that were then able to grow naturally.

“We all had a very good feeling that it was going to work this time,” said Venter Institute synthetic biologist Daniel Gibson, co-author of the study published May 20 in Science. “But we were cautiously optimistic because we had so many letdowns following the previous experiments.”

On a Friday in March, scientists inserted over 1 million base pairs of synthetic DNA into Mycoplasma capricolum cells before leaving for the weekend. When they returned on Monday, their cells had bloomed into colonies.

“When we look at life forms, we see fixed entities,” said J. Craig Venter, president of the Institute, in a recent podcast. “But this shows in fact how dynamic they are. They change from second to second. And that life is basically the result of an information process. Our genetic code is our software.”

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