Peering Over the Fortress That Is the Mighty Cell

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:

Cell When J. Craig Venter announced at a news conference the other day that he and his co-workers had created the first “synthetic cell,” he displayed the savvy graciousness of an actor accepting an Academy Award. Dr. Venter, the renowned genome wrassler and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, praised his two dozen team members and described the long years of struggle that preceded their moment of triumph. He called out important figures in the audience: his editor, his literary agent, the celebrity diet doctor Dean Ornish. And he acknowledged that none of his group’s work would have been possible without a lot of help from the parents — Mother Nature and Father Time.

After all, that stalwart pair was responsible for designing and gradually refining the real cells that brought the Venter team’s synthetic constructs to life. There is, as yet, no escaping the cell. Every past and present lodger on the twisted bristlecone tree of life is built of cells, every cell is a microcosm of life, and neither the Venter team nor anybody else has come close to recreating the cell from scratch. If anything, the new report underscores how dependent biologists remain on its encapsulated power.

More here.