Turning One Species Into Another

Philip Ball in news@nature.com:

By transplanting their genomes, US scientists have converted one species into another.

John Glass and his co-workers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, have taken DNA from a bacterium called Mycoplasma mycoides and inserted it into cells of the closely related species Mycoplasma capricolum.

They find that the recipient cells with the new genome behave like those of the donor species, making protein molecules characteristic of the donor. It’s like re-booting a cell with a new operating system, says Glass.

“The method is very impressive,” says biomedical engineer Jim Collins of Boston University. “It’s surprising that they could get such a large piece of DNA into the bugs, and even more surprising that they could get the new genome jump-started.”

To swap the genomes, the researchers encased M. mycoides cells in a gel and used enzymes to break them apart and destroy their proteins, leaving only their naked DNA.