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Year in review: ‘Minimal genome’ makes its debut

Synthetic cell may reveal what is necessary for life

By
7:36am, December 14, 2016
engineered bacterium

MOST MINUSCULE Named syn3.0, engineered bacteria developed at the J. Craig Venter Institute can survive and function with just 473 genes.

2016 Top 10 listOne of biology’s biggest achievements of 2016 was intentionally as small as possible: building a bacterium with only 473 genes. That pint-size genetic blueprint, the smallest for any known free-living cell, is a milestone in a decades-long effort to create an organism containing just the bare essentials necessary to exist and reproduce. Such “minimal genome” cells might eventually serve as templates for lab-made organisms that pump out medicines, make innovative chemicals for industry and agriculture, or churn out other molecules not yet imagined.

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