Lab-made DNA has been used to breed a life form for the first time by expanding the genetic code with the help of common E. coli microbes, according to new research.
Researchers said they believe their work will lead to new kind of protein that can be harvested and turned into drugs to treat a range of diseases along with new kinds of materials, reported The Guardian.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California modified common E. coli microbes to carry expanded genetic material which they believe will eventually allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave.
Scripps Research scientist Floyd Romesberg said his colleagues have created a single-celled organism that can hold on indefinitely to the natural DNA mix in synthetic-base material.
Their work was published Monday online on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
"The scientists called the novel base units dNaM and d5SICS (a newer, improved version of the bases were named dNaM and dTPT3)," said Washington Post writer Ben Guarino.
"You can think of these unnatural nucleobases as X and Y. Years down the line, microbes with increased genetic information could present exciting and lucrative scientific possibilities: bacteria capable of churning out therapeutic human proteins, or altered bugs that hoover up environmental spills."
Romesberg said the challenge with X and Y in 2014 was that they would lose their code as they divided. Graduate student Yorke Zhang and Brian Lamb, an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow, used a tool called a nucleotide transporter to allow X and Y to be copied across the cell's membrane.
"The transporter was used in the 2014 study, but it made the semisynthetic organism very sick," said Zhang.
The researchers found a way to modify the transporter that alleviated the problem, making it easier for the organism to grow and divide while holding on to X and Y.
The researchers said their next step is to study how their new genetic code can be transcribed into RNA, the molecule in cells needed to translate DNA into proteins.
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