Hamilton Smith Laboratory at UC San Diego

Each year we continue to put more and more carbon in our atmosphere through the use of fossil fuels. Our growing dependence on this source of fuel is leading to potentially catastrophic changes in our global environment such as increasing temperatures and melting ice caps to drought and wildfires. In short we are conducting a very large, uncontrolled experiment with our planet that could have dire consequences for sustaining life here. At the JCVI we believe we all share a responsibility to find new energy sources and to uncover ways to mitigate our negative impact on the planet. We’re using our pioneering genomic science to explore new biologically-driven sources of energy.

Since 1995, Dr. Venter and his teams have been trying to develop a minimal cell both to understand the fundamentals of biology and to begin the process of building a new cell and organism with optimized functions. Our scientists (with funding from the company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. and the U.S. Department of Energy) are focused on developing synthetic organisms able to produce various kinds of biological products and renewable fuels. Over the last years the team has been making steady progress toward their goal of a synthetic organism.

In 2003, JCVI researchers created a synthetic version of the bacteriophage, Phi X 174, and recently they successfully transformed one species of bacteria to another by genome transplantation. As they progress on their goal of synthetic life, they are ever mindful of the societal implications of this work. From the first work on a minimal genome in 1995 to today, these ethical implications are being explored by our scientists and policy experts. Synthetic genomics holds great promise for the future and our team intends to be at the forefront of discoveries and the important public dialogue.

Selected Publications

  1. Gibson, D. G., Benders, G. A., et al. Complete Chemical Synthesis, Assembly, and Cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium Genome. Science 319(5867): 1215-20 (2008)
  2. Lartigue, C., Glass, J. I., et al. Genome transplantation in bacteria: changing one species to another.
    Science 317(5838): 632-8 (2007)
  3. Glass, J. I., Assad-Garcia, N., et al. Essential genes of a minimal bacterium. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2006 Jan 10; 103(2): 425-30.
  4. Hutchison, C. A., 3rd, Smith, H. O., et al. Cell-free cloning using phi29 DNA polymerase. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102(48): 17332-6 (2005)
  5. Smith, H. O., Hutchison, C. A., 3rd, et al. Generating a synthetic genome by whole genome assembly: phiX174 bacteriophage from synthetic oligonucleotides. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100(26): 15440-5 (2003)
  6. Venter, J. C., Smith, H. O., et al. A new strategy for genome sequencing. Nature 381(6581): 364-6 (1996)
  7. Fraser, C. M., Gocayne, J. D., et al. The minimal gene complement of Mycoplasma genitalium. Science 270(5235): 397-403 (1995)
  8. Fleischmann, R. D., Adams, M. D., et al. Whole-genome random sequencing and assembly of Haemophilus influenzae Rd. Science 269(5223): 496-512 (1995)
  9. Fields, C., Adams, M. D., et al. How many genes in the human genome? Nat Genet 7(3): 345-6 (1994)
List of Publications from PubMed


J. Craig Venter Institute
10355 Science Center Drive
San Diego, CA 92121