Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.
The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.
Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be “a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before”.
He then emitted an evil laugh and said, “Even Superman can’t stop me now.”
The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.
It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell’s species. Mr Venter said he was “100% confident” the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.
He also said he was 100 percent confident that this new life form would always be obedient to his commands and had no chance of escape. “It will depend upon me completely and will be subservient to my every command…muhahahahha!!!”
Mr Venter said he had carried out an ethical review before completing the experiment. “We feel that this is good science,” he said. He has further heightened the controversy surrounding his potential breakthrough by applying for a patent for the synthetic bacterium.
He added that, of course, a little bacteria never hurt anybody. And a new bacteria never never hurt anybody.
Pat Mooney, director of a Canadian bioethics organisation, ETC group, said the move was an enormous challenge to society to debate the risks involved. “Governments, and society in general, is way behind the ball. This is a wake-up call – what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube?”
He said Mr Venter was creating a “chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons”.
Or perhaps an advancement in the creation of an army of zombies!!!
“We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking,” he said. “We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can’t expect everybody to be happy.”
He added in his evil voice: “And if you remain unhappy I have a bacteria that might make you a little more….pliable.”