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Minimal controversy

Scientists see new Venter genome project as interesting, but hardly dangerous.

Tabitha Powledge(tam@nasw.org)

Craig Venter's "minimal genome" project announced Wednesday is not about creating a new life form and probably doesn't pose much of a biowarfare threat, researchers say. The high-profile project was just funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with $3 million going to the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA), one of the non-profit research institutes Venter founded after leaving the newly profit-minded Celera Genomics early this year.

According to some scientists, the new project won't even define the minimal genome—the basic gene set required for life—because there can be no single minimal genome.

"The question of the minimal genome for an organism is always 'minimal in which environment,'" said Francisco J. Silva of the University of Valencia in Spain. Silva and colleagues at the university's Cavanilles Institute for Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology are studying the genome of the insect endosymbiont Buchnera aphidicola, which appears to have an...

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