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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Biotechnology - Molecular Biology - Science Policy

Design and Construction of “Synthetic Species”
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Author: Eduardo Moreno

by Eduardo Moreno

Synthetic biology is an area of biological research that combines science and engineering. Here, I merge the principles of synthetic biology and regulatory evolution to create a new species with a minimal set of known elements. Using preexisting transgenes and recessive mutations of Drosophila melanogaster, a transgenic population arises with small eyes and a different venation pattern that fulfils the criteria of a new species according to Mayr’s Biological Species Concept. The population described here is the first transgenic organism that cannot hybridize with the original wild type population but remains fertile when crossed with other identical transgenic animals. I therefore propose the term “synthetic species” to distinguish it from “natural species”, not only because it has been created by genetic manipulation, but also because it may never be able to survive outside the laboratory environment. The use of genetic engineering to design artificial species barriers could help us understand natural speciation and may have practical applications. For instance, the transition from transgenic organisms towards synthetic species could constitute a safety mechanism to avoid the hybridization of genetically modified animals with wild type populations, preserving biodiversity.
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