Dr. John Glass is a Professor in the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) where he leads the Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy Group. This is the team that created a minimal bacterial cell with a genome comprising only the essential genes necessary for life in rich laboratory media. From the lessons learned through building a synthetic cell with a minimal gene set the JCVI synthetic biologists hope to design and create cells with extraordinary properties that address human needs in medicine, bioenergy and the environment. Glass also directs Venter Institute teams that are creating new vaccines against veterinary pathogens using synthetic biology methods developed at the JCVI and developing new methods for synthesis of human artificial chromosomes.
Glass’s expertise is in molecular biology, microbial pathogenesis, and microbial genomics. He is an adjunct faculty member of the University of Maryland Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics. Prior to joining the JCVI Glass spent five years in the Infectious Diseases Research Division of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly where he led a hepatitis C virology group and a microbial genomics group (1998-2003).
Glass earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His Ph.D. work was on RNA virus genetics in the laboratory of Gail Wertz. He was on the faculty and did postdoctoral fellowships in the Microbiology Department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in polio virology with Casey Morrow and mycoplasma pathogenesis with Gail Cassell (1990-1998). On sabbatical leave in Ellson Chen’s lab at Applied Biosystems Inc. (1995-1997) he sequenced the genome of Ureaplasma parvum and began his study of mycoplasma genomics.
Biologists’ newfound ability to design and synthesize chromosome sized pieces of DNA is driving a major change in how we think about biology and living organisms. Over the last 16 years, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have developed a series of technologies that enable to design and construction of DNA molecules containing thousands of genes and millions of basepairs. We think of these synthetic genomes as being the software of life, which is written in A, C, T and G nucleotides rather than 0s and 1s as in computer software. To continue the use of the living cell – computer metaphor, our team has also developed methods that allow the installation and booting up of DNA software into the biological hardware of viruses, bacterial cells, and eukaryotic cells. I will present two research projects where our team designed and constructed large synthetic chromosomes. First, we produced a minimal bacterial cell that we now use as chassis to investigate the first principals of cellular life. More recently our team has developed a process where we construct Human Artificial Chromosome in yeast cells, where they are inert and then fuse those yeast cells with human cells resulting in efficient transfer to the Human Artificial Chromosome to human cells where they replicate and function as a fully synthetic 47th chromosome. These Human Artificial Chromosome containin a synthetic centromere and capable of sustained episomal replication. Implications of these and related technologies will have important consequences on how biology is used to solve human problems.