Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Human-Made Species

How shopping malls will look by 2008

Work on the world's first human-made species is well under way at a research complex in Rockville, Md., and scientists in Canada have been quietly conducting experiments to help bring such a creature to life.

Several scientific groups are trying to make genes that do not exist in nature, in hopes of constructing microbes that perform useful tasks, such as producing industrial chemicals, clean energy or drugs. Dr. Venter and his colleagues are pushing the technology to its limits by trying to put together an entirely synthetic genome.

The Venter team is starting small, working to construct a simpler version of the bacteria known as Mycoplasma genitalium, a common resident of the human reproductive tract. They hope to determine the minimum number of genes required to breathe life into an organism.

How bathrooms will look by 2009

M. genitalium is a single-cell bacterium with just one chromosome and 517 genes. But the Venter team is paring the recipe down and believes their version will be able to survive with as few as 250 to 400 genes -- each of which they are making themselves, one chemical piece at a time.

(Editor's Note: for more information on M. genitalium, see this week's feature on that most eminent scientific journal, Bubblegum Meltdown.)

"I grew up doing that with cars and clocks and radios and things like that," Dr. Venter said. "You take them apart to understand them and then you try and see if you can reassemble them."

plays God with a 212 handicap
Aspiring Mad Scientist, Venter
(Igor featured in background)

Dr. Holt, a Vancouver native who worked in the United States with Dr. Venter until 2002, described it as a "chicken and egg" problem.

'My God! It's full of eggs!'

"You need an egg to make the chicken, but you also need the chicken to make the egg," Dr. Holt said. "I thought this was one of the most important problems and one that we should get working on here."

The Sordid Details

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ok... December Post

Alright God damn it!

Let's all gather around now, children. Uncle Helskel is gonna tell you a story.

*children gather around in eager expectation of wonderful story telling*

"It all began with a broken spoon. You see there was this old man. Let's just call him Old Man. Ok. Everyone agreed? Old Man? Ok. Old Man was well... old. He'd been living for quite some time already. I mean, he was old. He wasn't a young man you see. I mean, I wouldn't name him Old Man if he was a teenager, now would I? Ok. Back to the Old Man. Old Man had a cat. The cat wasn't as old as Old Man. The cat would be mumified by now if it was as old as Old Man. So we'll call this cat, Old Man's Cat. Everybody still with me?"

*the children exchange looks with each other, and begin edging away*

"Ok. So Old Man was sitting in his house one day with Old Man's Cat. Old Man's Cat was purring because Old Man was petting Old Man's Cat. Ok, let's just call Old Man's Cat, OMC. Ok? Good. Now OMC had been having some urinary problems lately. OMC would kinda piss wherever. When OMC felt the need, OMC let it flow. In fact, OMC was relieving itself right there in Old Man's lap. Old Man knew OMC was pissing on him, right there on his lap. But Old Man didn't mind, because Old Man kinda had the same problem, and so had a lot sympathy for OMC's condition. Now you can imagine Old Man's house had a bit of a smell to it. That's what this story is about kids, the smell of Old Man's house. Let's call it the SOOMH for short, ok?"

*Uncle Helskel looks up and sees all the children have left*

What! What? Not such a good story eh? Well, fug it. There's your December post.