Scientists could create the first new form of artificial life within months after a landmark breakthrough in which they turned one bacterium into another.
Craig Venter likened the process to 'changing a Macintosh computer into a PC by inserting a new piece of software'
In a development that has triggered unease and excitement in equal measure, scientists in the US took the whole genetic makeup - or genome - of a bacterial cell and transplanted it into a closely related species.
This then began to grow and multiply in the lab, turning into the first species in the process.
The team that carried out the first Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“species transplantĂ˘â‚¬Âť says it plans within months to do the same thing with a synthetic genome made from scratch in the laboratory.
If that experiment worked, it would mark the creation of a synthetic lifeform.
The scientists want to create new kinds of bacterium to make new types of bugs which can be used as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.