Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

This synthetic life

By Roger Kalla - posted Thursday, 21 June 2007

This year we celebrate that it is 300 years ago the father of the sciences of taxonomy and botany, Carl von Linne, or Linneaus, was born on the farm Raashult, in the central highlands of Southern Sweden.

“God created, Linneaus organised” was his motto. Linneaus was a man of the enlightenment but he didn’t think that nature could be a self-regulated complex system, but that there had to be a creator with a plan and that he had been given the task to reveal this plan. Intelligent design is a term he probably would have been very comfortable with.

It is interesting that just this year the first totally synthetic living organism, Mycoplasma laboratus, has been given a name according to the nomenclature that Linneaus suggested. Previously, advanced bio engineering had recreated the whole genome of the influenza strain that caused the Spanish flu - from fragments of the virus extracted from frozen bodies of victims. This extinct flu strain was responsible for millions of deaths in the beginning of the previous century (On Line Opinion article).


However in this case there definitively is no God behind the creation of Mycoplasma laboratus but a man, and no ordinary man.

Craig Venter is a controversial figure among scientists. There are groups like ETC, who have taken upon themselves the role of self-appointed watchdog on behalf of the unsuspecting public, against people like Craig Venter and his privately funded research institute, the J. Craig Venter Institute.

Among Craig Venter’s previous projects is the determination of all the genes of his pet poodle, Shadow. This was preceded by the gene sequencing of one human genome by his Institute. At a joint press conference in 2001 at the White House, hosted by President Clinton, the human genome sequencing effort was proclaimed to be successfully completed and the race to achieve this milestone in biology was declared a draw between the multinational public science International Human Genome Project and the Venter Institute.

It took 13 years,$3 billion and lots of human ingenuity to complete this task.

As an example of the relentless march of technology a recently completed single human genome, of the Nobel price winner James Watson (of the Watson Crick model for the DNA double helix) reportedly took only two months and $US1 million to be sequenced by another US company. However Craig Venter could not resist making the point that his was the first fully sequenced genome.

Venter is confidently predicting that the cost of sequencing a personal genome could be reduced to about $1,000 within a decade.


Venter has also made the headlines here in Australia when he dropped by on his way around the world’s oceans with the aim to sequence the microbial content of the seas on his yacht, Sorcerer.

Essentially he was searching for useful and hitherto undiscovered new genes that he could use for creating a new tailor made micro-organism equipped with all kinds of useful features - like the capacity to produce hydrogen and ethanol.

Venter's Institute claims that its stripped-down microbe could be the key to cheap energy production.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

8 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Roger Kalla

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Roger Kalla
Article Tools
Comment 8 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy