“The arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien’ life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications,”
Scientists reported Wednesday that they had taken a significant step toward altering the fundamental alphabet of life — creating an organism with an expanded artificial genetic code in its DNA.
The accomplishment might eventually lead to organisms that can make medicines or industrial products that cells with only the natural genetic code cannot.
The scientists behind the work at the Scripps Research Institute have already formed a company to try to use the technique to develop new antibiotics, vaccines and other products, though a lot more work needs to be done before this is practical.
The work also gives some support to the concept that life can exist elsewhere in the universe using genetics different from those on Earth.
“This is the first time that you have had a living cell manage an alien genetic alphabet,” said Steven A. Benner, a researcher in the field at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla., who was not involved in the new work.
But the research, published online by the journal Nature, is bound to raise safety concerns and questions about whether humans are playing God. The new paper could intensify calls for greater regulation of the budding field known as synthetic biology, which involves the creation of biological systems intended for specific purposes.
“The arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien’ life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications,” Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian advocacy organization, said in an email. “While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments haven’t even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field.”
Despite the great diversity of life on Earth, all species, from simple bacteria to human beings, use the same genetic code. It consists of four chemical units in DNA, sometimes called nucleotides or bases, that are usually represented by the letters A, C, G and T. The sequence of these chemical units determines what proteins the cell makes. Those proteins in turn do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
The Scripps researchers chemically created two new nucleotides, which they called X and Y. They inserted an X-Y pair into the common bacterium E. coli. The bacteria were able to reproduce normally, though a bit more slowly than usual, replicating the X and Y along with the natural nucleotides.
In effect, the bacteria have a genetic code of six letters rather than four, perhaps allowing them to make novel proteins that could function in a completely different way from those created naturally.
“If you have a language that has a certain number of letters, you want to add letters so you can write more words and tell more stories,” said Floyd E. Romesberg, a chemist at Scripps who led the work.
Dr. Romesberg dismissed concern that novel organisms would run amok and cause harm, saying the technique was safe because the synthetic nucleotides were fed to the bacteria. Should the bacteria escape into the environment or enter someone’s body, they would not be able to obtain the needed synthetic material and would either die or revert to using only natural DNA.
The Latest on: Synthetic biology
via Google News
The Latest on: Synthetic biology
- IDT launches high quality, ready-to-use custom oligo poolson August 16, 2019 at 7:31 am
Pooled oligos are widely used in high-throughput workflows in synthetic biology, diagnostic development, and drug discovery. For optimum performance, such pools must be uniformly comprised of ...
- From the community: Words, images and gender perspectives as gauges of public perception of Synthetic Biologyon August 16, 2019 at 1:34 am
It is true that, as with all emerging technologies, public sentiment of synthetic biology is a crucial factor that shapes the trajectory of the research field. The attitude of laypeople towards the ...
- Tycoon Li Ka-shing donates HK$500 million to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for new synthetic biology research labon August 15, 2019 at 4:55 pm
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing has made a HK$500 million (US$64.1 million) donation to a local university to build the city’s first synthetic biology institute. The research facility – to be called the ...
- $500m donation lays building block for biology firston August 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm
The Li Ka Shing Foundation has donated HK$500 million to the University of Science and Technology to set up Hong Kong's First Institute of Synthetic Biology.HKUST said yesterday they received the ...
- This New Animal-Free Ingredient Company Just Raised Another $27.5 Million In Fundingon August 15, 2019 at 6:03 am
Motif Ingredients, the company launched by synthetic biology firm Ginkgo Bioworks, announced today it has raised an additional $27.5 million in funding. The food ingredient company’s Series A ...
- How synthetic biology can help the environmenton August 15, 2019 at 5:53 am
Most environmental science is focused on how to turn back the clock, not push it forward, says Ben Bostick, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We think about how we can roll back ...
- Following approval of GMO crops, Nigeria sets sights on other biotech advances, including gene editing and synthetic biologyon August 15, 2019 at 5:33 am
Having approved its first GMO food crop earlier this year, Nigeria is poised to take another step forward in the biotechnology arena. The nation’s legislature wants to give its biotech agency ...
- An automated pipeline for the screening of diverse monoterpene synthase librarieson August 15, 2019 at 2:44 am
Recent advances in synthetic biology offer new routes to this chemical diversity through the introduction of heterologous isoprenoid production pathways into engineered microorganisms. Due to the ...
- Meeting report: Gordon Research Conference on Synthetic Biologyon August 12, 2019 at 5:37 am
Last month, the fourth Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Synthetic Biology was held in Waterville Valley, NH. Past conferences predominantly featured genome engineering and genetic circuits. This ...
- 5 Reasons Jeff Bezos Should Bet Big On Synthetic Biologyon August 12, 2019 at 2:50 am
The richest man on earth is trying to get off it. In a recent interview with CNBC news, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos warned that humans are “in the process of destroying this planet.” We have to go to space, ...
via Bing News