Scientists have created the world’s first living organism that has a fully synthetic and radically altered DNA code.
The lab-made microbe, a strain of bacteria that is normally found in soil and the human gut, is similar to its natural cousins but survives on a smaller set of genetic instructions.
The bug’s existence proves life can exist with a restricted genetic code and paves the way for organisms whose biological machinery is commandeered to make drugs and useful materials, or to add new features such as virus resistance.
In a two-year effort, researchers at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge read and redesigned the DNA of the bacterium Escherichia coli (E coli), before creating cells with a synthetic version of the altered genome.
The artificial genome holds 4m base pairs, the units of the genetic code spelled out by the letters G, A, T and C. Printed in full on A4 sheets, it runs to 970 pages.
Such designer lifeforms could come in handy, [researcher Jason] Chin believes. Because their DNA is different, invading viruses will struggle to spread inside them, making them in effect virus-resistant.
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