Researchers from the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA), led by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., have significantly advanced methods to improve the speed and accuracy of genomic synthesis. The IBEA researchers assembled the 5,386 base pair bacteriophage φX174 (phi X), from short, single strands of synthetically produced, commercially available DNA (known as oligonucleotides) using an adaptation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), known as polymerase cycle assembly (PCA), to build the phi X genome. Like PCR, PCA is a technique that produces double-stranded copies of individual gene sequences based on single-stranded templates. The IBEA team produced the synthetic phi X in just 14 days. The research, accepted for publication and in press with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was announced today at a press conference with Secretary of the Department of Energy, Spencer Abraham and Dr. Venter.
Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and are not harmful to humans, animals, or plants. IBEA researchers hope that by making synthetic organisms they can rapidly and effectively harness all energy in the organism toward either energy production, likely in the form of hydrogen, or carbon sequestration.
"Researchers have made an exciting scientific advance that may speed our ability to develop biology-based solutions for some of our most pressing energy and environmental challenges," Secretary Abraham said. "With this advance it is easier to imagine, in the not-too-distant future, a colony of specially designed microbes living within the emission-control system of a coal-fired plant, consuming its pollution and its carbon dioxide, or employing microbes to radically reduce water pollution or to reduce the toxic effects of radioactive waste."
Synthetic genomics could lead to:
- Better, faster gene synthesis
- Faster, more accurate DNA-based vaccine production
- Improved phage therapy, for example, for treating antibiotic resistant infections
- Improved biological agent detection/deterrent
- Clean energy production.
- Construction of "cassette-based" organisms that could be inserted into host organisms to conduct many types of functions. For example, organisms could be engineered to improve production in a more environmentally sound way in pharmaceutical, textiles, and plastics manufacture, replacing the use of petrochemicals. Likewise, microbes for cleaning up oil spills, radioactive waste, etc. could be improved through this technique.