Scientists Create Artificial DNA, Expand Genetic Code Of Life

| by Jonathan Wolfe

Scientists in California have developed a truly life-altering breakthrough.

Chemical biologist Floyd Romesberg and his team created an artificial extension to the genetic code of DNA and successfully implemented that extension into a living organism. Put simply, these scientists expanded the genetic code of life.

DNA, which carries the genetic instructions for all life on earth, is written in a code of four base letters – A, T, G, and C. In all living things, G pairs with C and T pairs with A to create genes. Every form of life around you is created using a combination of these pairs -- until now.

Rosemberg and his team successfully engineered new DNA ‘letters’ – called X and Y for simplicity’s sake – and were able to get E coli bacterial organisms to incorporate the new letters into their own genetic code. The E coli organisms recognized the artificial DNA as their own, and even passed it on to future generations.

"What we have now, for the first time, is an organism that stably harbours a third base pair, and it is utterly different to the natural ones," Rosemberg said.

The team's discovery was published in Nature.

The breakthrough has no practical implications at this moment, but the possibilities for the future are endless. New potent medicines, vaccines, and antibiotics could be developed using artificial DNA like the strand created here.

"This is just a beautiful piece of work," said Martin Fussenegger, a synthetic biologist at ETH Zurich.  "DNA replication is really the cream of the crop of evolution which operates the same way in all living systems. Seeing that this machinery just fascinating.”

What a time to be alive.

Sources: The Guardian, Nature