Sunday, February 03, 2008

First man-made organism, first 'Watermarks'

The scientist attempting to create the first man-made organism scribbled his name in the first synthetic genome that he unveiled a few days ago.

Telegraph science coverage in full
In the beginning: how to create synthetic life
Mankind needs to make artificial life to survive
A team at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, announced recently how it has successfully created the largest man-made DNA structure, the circular genetic code - genome - of an artificial bacterium as a precursor to breeding a synthetic organism in the lab.

Dr Venter has scribbled his name into the first synthetic genome
Now a table in the online supplemental materials for the Science paper that announced the feat reveals it contained a secret message embedded in the DNA: the code carries the name of the head of the institute, Dr Craig Venter, that of his research institute and co-workers.

His name appears in the synthetic genome as one of five "watermarks," sequences of genetic code. Although the genetic alphabet only comes in four letters, the team exploited how they are grouped in units of three, called codons, and each codon is equivalent to one of 20 naturally occurring amino acids.

In this way, they could spell words using the letters for the amino acids that would be produced by the DNA code. One watermark was written "VenterInstitvte " because there is no amino acid represented by the letter "u."

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