A new "engineered" strain of bacteria has been created by scientists, which is a development that can be described as a step towards the creation of "synthetic life".
The team, including scientist J Craig Venter, a leading figure in the controversial field of synthetic biology, has successfully transferred the genome of one type of bacteria into a yeast cell, modified it, and then transplanted into another bacterium.
AdvertisementThe study paves the way to the creation of a synthetic organism - inserting a human-made genome into a bacterial cell.
It has been described in the journal Science.
According to boffins, the advancement overcomes the obstacle of making a new inserted genome work inside a recipient cell.
The resulting cell Sanjay Vashee, one of the authors, and his team created went on to undertake multiple rounds of cell division, to produce a new strain of the modified bacteria.
Vashee is a researcher at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, in the US. He explained to BBC News: "Bacteria have 'immune' systems that protect them from foreign DNA such as those from viruses."
The scientists disabled the immune system, which consists of proteins called restriction enzymes that home in on specific sections of DNA and chop up the genome at these points.
Bacteria can shield their own genomes from this process by attaching chemical compounds called methyl groups at the points which the restriction enzymes attack.
The scientists modified the original genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, whilst it was inside the yeast cell. Then they either attached methyl groups to it, or inactivated the restriction enzyme of the recipient bacterium, before transplanting the genome into its new cell.
The team aims to transplant a fully synthetic genome into a bacterial cell - creating bacteria that can be programmed to carry out specific functions - for example, digesting biological material to produce fuel.