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IBEA Researchers Synthesize Bacteriophage Genome: PCA Technology to be Freely Available

NEW YORK, Nov. 13 (GenomeWeb News) - Researchers at Craig Venter's Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives announced today that they have assembled a synthetic genome, that of the 5,386 base pair bacteriophage phiX174 (phi X).


The group said it used short oligonucleotides and adapted PCR into a technique called polymerase cycle assembly, or PCA, to build this genome in 14 days. Like PCR, PCA produces double-stranded gene sequences from single-stranded templates.


The researchers, including Hamilton Smith, scientific director of IBEA; Clyde Hutchison, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Cynthia Pfannkoch, and Venter, have submitted their findings for publication, and the article is currently in press at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


In a press conference held to discuss this accomplishment held at a Department of Energy building in Washington, DC, Spencer Abraham, secretary of the DOE, called the successful effort "nothing short of amazing," and  "a critical accomplishment."


Unlike the vast majority of genomic research that starts with an organism, Dr. Venter created this phage from scratch with almost perfect accuarcy in just days instead of months," said Abraham. "This brings us closer to our goal of developing microbes that can be used to address energy department goals."


Venter called the work "basic science at its most basic level." He said, "We have to understand life at its most basic level - and we're far from that."


Venter also said during the press conference that his team would not commercialize PCA, nor would he file patents on it. "We'd rather wait till the next stage when there's a clear cut application: for instance if we have something that produces hydrogen that might hold some value." Asked how the PCA technology will be made available to other scientists he said "By reading our paper." 


Abraham announced during the press conference that he is creating a subcommittee of the department's Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, to be chaired by Ray Gesteland, vice president of research and professor of genetics at the University of Utah. which will review IBEA's research and recommend ways this research can be accelerated and its potential benefits to energy missions and other areas.  Geteland will report back to Abraham by March 12, 2004, Abraham said.

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