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We don’t know what all genes do—but does it matter?

Scientists have created a "minimal cell" with just 473 genes—such work could have huge benefits beyond biology

By Philip Ball  

Read more: There is no intelligence gene… singular 

How many genes does it take to make an organism? One answer has just been supplied by researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in La Jolla, California, among them biotech entrepreneur Venter himself. They have created a “minimal cell” christened JCVI-syn3.0, based on the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides but with a tailor-made, synthetic genome stripped of what seem to be all superfluous genes to leave just 473 of them. In the popular but…

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