Controversial US geneticist Craig Venter has been given ethical approval and a government grant to build the first artificial bacterium.

Working with Nobel Prize-winning DNA expert Hamilton Smith, he plans to create a single-celled organism with the minimum number of genes to sustain life. The US Department of Energy has given the pair a $3 million, three-year grant to pay for the work at Venter’s new Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives in Maryland.

Venter first announced plans to create an artificial lifeform in 1999, but his team agreed to put the research on hold while the Ethics of Genomics Group conducted a review. More here.