The folks who built this cell know it’s alive. It reproduces in its laboratory dish every three hours. Yes, it has 473 genes and almost every one is presumed essential. “You cannot live without all but one or two of the genes in this genome,” says Venter.
That’s how they built the thing: They started with a goat intestine bacterium, copied its chemistry, booted it up, and then, one by one, they looked at each and every gene and removed it. If the bacterium died, they put it back—it was necessary. If it wasn’t, out it went.
But now, staring at the 473 survivors, weirdly, Venter’s team has no idea why it’s these genes? Why are they the ones necessary for life? (For this creature’s life, anyway.) What exactly are they doing? And the answer is … they don’t know.
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