Scientists have found a way to rapidly synthesize the entire genome of a virus. To construct the sequence, which consists of 5,386 DNA building blocks, or base pairs, strung into a single chromosome, J. Craig Venter of the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives in Rockville, Md., and his colleagues first ordered 259 smaller segments of the genome from a commercial supplier.
Using a cocktail of enzymes and extra DNA pieces, the scientists bound the snippets together and filled in gaps. This created a full-length, synthetic version of the chromosome for a virus known as bacteriophage phiX174, which is harmless to people.
The researchers then infected bacteria with their synthetic bacteriophage genome. Although most of the viruses contained errors, some were able to multiply within the bacteria as effectively as their natural counterparts do. Venter and his coworkers announced their findings at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13 and will publish them