Major technical advance in synthetic biology

The milestone achievement involves Dr. Clyde Hutchison, emeritus professor of the department, and a large research team at the J. Craig Venter Institute...

The milestone achievement involves Dr. Clyde Hutchison, emeritus professor of the department, and a large research team at the J. Craig Venter Institute. This group synthesized and assembled in vitro a replication-competent genome for the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides. The synthetic genome, containing designed “watermark” sequences, was introduced into a recipient cell of the distinct species Mycoplasma capricolum. Culture conditions then selected for the M. mycoides genome and against the M. capricolum genome. Stable replication-competent cells grew out harboring the synthetic genome and not the naturally occurring genome of M. mycoides, nor a recombinant form that involved M. capricolum.
The work was a major presentation as a plenary lecture given by Dr. Hutchison at the 2010 ASM meeting in San Diego in May. It is also published in the July 2nd issue of Science, vol. 329, 52-56. This unit of research has naturally evoked a wide response regarding both commercial applications and ethical concerns.
A critical feature of this work is the small size of the genomes of the Mycoplasma species. Dr. Hutchison first engaged this system while here at UNC in a collaboration with Dr. Ken Bott ( now also emeritus professor). Drs Bott and Hutchison were focused on the small genome of M. genitalium and they published ( with trainee coauthors ) three papers during 1993-1995. When Dr. Hutchison developed his association with Dr. Venter he took the mycoplasma system with him.
Dr. Hutchison was elected to the National Academy in 1995, retired from his duties at UNC in in 2004, and in that same year became Distinguished Investigator at the J. Craig Venter Instititute.