Pages

June 08, 2007

Venter creating and trying to patent minimal genome microbe

For the past few years, Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer, has been trying to build an organism from scratch. His company has a patent application which can be seen here

They started the project by selecting a microbe, Mycoplasma genitalium, that has only has 482 genes. They then introduced crippling mutations into each gene to figure out which ones are dispensable and which can't be done without. In January last year they reported that 382 were essential. In the patent, the number drops to 381. As the application explains, it would be theoretically possible to synthesize a 381-gene genome and plug it into a genome-free cell, and--voila--boot up a new organism. This artificial genome could be engineered so that it can easily accept other genes to carry out new functions--such as producing cheap hydrogen fuel.

There's no evidence in the patent that Venter has actually booted up a synthetic organism, but it's worth bearing in mind that the patent was filed in October and is only now coming available. So at this point, Venter is claiming a patent for something he has yet to build.

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

So they are trying to patent something that they can't even do yet... is that even allowed?

bw said...

yes, that is allowed.
You just have to precisely describe how you can do it so that someone else in the field could follow the instructions and be able to do it. There is nothing that says how long it would take them to do it. So the instructions could be to synthesize a 5000 base string which has been done but can take awhile, give them the specific sequence and then insert it into a blanked bacteria which has also been done.
then they have a viable patent even if no one has put those steps together before.