Science & Technology
Scientists create semi-synthetic life forms
By T.K. Randall
January 24, 2017 · 38 comments
The organisms possess an extended genetic code. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Christoph Bock
For the first time ever, researchers have succeeded in creating healthy organisms with synthetic DNA.
In what is being hailed as a major breakthrough that could lead to the creation of whole new life forms, Floyd Romesberg and colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in California have managed to produce E coli microbes modified with an extended genetic code.
The research, which is aimed at producing new kinds of proteins for use in medicine, has made it possible for scientists to effectively program how the organisms will operate and behave.
The expanded genetic code includes two new molecules - X and Y - which the organisms absorb through feeding. This aspect of the process is also intended as a fail-safe in the unlikely event that the microbes ever manage to escape the lab.
While Romesberg and his team had managed to produce semi-synthetic microbes in the lab before, their previous efforts had seen the organisms die off almost immediately.
This time however their creations appear to be thriving.
"This is a major step forward in showing that a living cell such as a simple bacterium can be engineered to sustain a synthetic base pair not found in nature," said scientist Paul Freemont.
"This leads to the concept of semi-synthetic living systems that could be engineered to perform specific functions that would rely on a distinct genetic code compared to the natural genetic code."
Source: The Guardian
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