In this week's Science, researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute and elsewhere report on the design and synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome containing just 473 genes essential for life. Building on an earlier effort in which they synthesized the genome of the bacteria Mycoplasma mycoides, which possesses the smallest genome of any autonomously replicating cell, the investigators designed hypothetical minimal genomes in eight different segments, each of which could be tested in order to accurately classify constituent genes as essential or not. After winnowing down the number of genes used to only ones that were absolutely essential to survival, they group synthesized a final genome smaller than that of any autonomously replicating cell found in nature. This genome lacks all DNA-modifying and restriction genes, as well as most genes encoding lipoproteins, but retains genes involved in reading and expressing the genetic information in the genome and in preserving genetic information across generations. This minimal genome represents a new tool for studying the core functions of life. GenomeWeb has more on this study here.
And in Science Translational Medicine, officials from Leidos Life Sciences discuss a new funding mechanism — established by their company in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and patient advocacy organizations — to find financial support to research applications that fail to secure NIH funding. Called Online Partnership to Accelerate Research, or OnPAR, the public/private paradigm aims to match investigators' research applications to the specific research and development needs of nongovernment sources of funding.