<figcaption> Credit: Courtesy of the J. Craig Venter Institute</figcaption>
Credit: Courtesy of the J. Craig Venter Institute

The paper:

J. Glass et al., "Essential genes of a minimal bacterium," Proc Natl Acad Sci, 103:425-30, 2006. (Cited in 65 papers)

The finding:

To identify the essential genes of Mycoplasma genitalium, the smallest free-living bacterium, John Glass and collaborators at the J. Craig Venter Institute used global transposon mutagenesis to disrupt individual genes. 382 out of 482 genes were found essential for the bacterial cells to function normally, which is greater than the 265-350 suggested from a previous study.

The utility:

Pinning down what's essential in this organism will help researchers build synthetic bacteria, says Glass. These organisms might one day produce biofuels, clean up pollution, or function as living diagnostic tools.

The follow-up:

Earlier this year, the Venter team announced that it had synthesized and assembled a complete M. genitalium genome - the largest synthetic DNA structure. They...

The future:

Glass and collaborators plan to publish a study on inserting the Mycoplasma genome into a suitable recipient cell, moving the team closer to a fully synthetic M. genitalium. Harvard geneticist George Church says, however, that assembling an M. genitalium genome is only one way to build a useful synthetic organism, and many researchers have already modified other bacteria for commercial purposes.

Number of essential Mycoplasma genitalium genes estimated:
In 1999 265-350
In 2006 382
In 2008 ~ 371

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