Using synthetics to design cells with new abilities ‘such as pumping out life-saving drugs’

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Image: Liang Zong and Yan Liang/MIT

A German team headed by Dr. Edward Lemke at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory described an entirely synthetic organelle inside living cells in Science [March 29]. With roots in nature, these artificial factories nevertheless explode the capabilities of normal cells by overhauling the basic genetics of life. Super-cells equipped with these organelles not only process normal DNA letters—A, T, C, G—into natural proteins; they’re also capable of expanding the genetic code and using designer building blocks to construct entirely new proteins without interfering with the cell’s normal functions.

“This basically achieves a cell which simultaneously uses two distinct genetic codes for different proteins it produces,” Lemke and his colleagues, Christopher Reinkemeier and Gemma Estrada Girona told Singularity Hub.

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That’s not even the crux. In theory, the strategy could work to concentrate any designer function into cells. Because the concept doesn’t disrupt a cell’s normal way of life, the team believes that scientists can now engineer custom compartments that execute completely synthetic tasks inside cells—such as pumping out life-saving drugs, biofuels, or encoding artificial photosynthesis.

“We can now start dreaming of designing all types of organelles to equip cells with new functions,” they said.

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Read full, original post: Synthetic Cell Component Expands the Code of Life in Complex Cells

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