Technology

Scientists Created Bacteria With a Synthetic Genome. Is This Artificial Life?


Researchers at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday reported that they had rewritten the DNA of the bacteria Escherichia coli, fashioning a synthetic genome four times larger and far more complex than any previously created.


Each gene in a living genome is detailed in an alphabet of four bases, molecules called adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine (often described only by their first letters: A, T, G, C).


The new study was led by Jason Chin, of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Britain, who wanted to understand why all living things encode genetic information in the same baffling way.


After some preliminary experiments, he and his colleagues designed a modified version of the E. coli genome on a computer that only required 61 codons to produce all of the amino acids the organism needs.


They could synthesize the DNA in a lab, but introducing it into the bacteria — essentially substituting synthetic genes for those made by evolution — was a daunting challenge.


A compressed genetic code will free up codons that scientists can use to encode these new building blocks, making new proteins that carry out new tasks in the body.






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