Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Smallest Bit Possible

Genomes are messy things with genes involved in translation in one spot and ones needed for cell replication in another, the J. Craig Venter Institute's Hamilton Smith tells the New Scientist in a Q&A.

Smith, who was part of the team that made the first synthetic genome, is trying to reduce a bacterial genome so that it contains the barest necessities for life.

"There's no question we're going to end up with a reduced cell with several hundred genes. We don't know the function of about 100 of those genes, so right there we're probably going to make discoveries about what's truly essential," he tells the New Scientist.

Researchers, he says, can make the genome more understandable by organizing the genes needed for cellular processes.

But what will really drive synthetic biology studies, Smith says, is the automation of the chemical synthesis of DNA.

"I'm sure right now many young people could think of interesting genetic material to design but it's too expensive," he says. "If it's cheap and easy you can just keep churning out stuff. It would become trivial to design whole genomes after a while."