For the first time in history, scientists have made it possible for an organism to survive with artificial DNA, which could not only make it possible to make new medicines, or other useful molecules; but it could also potentially prove the theory that live exists in outer space.
For billions of years, the history of life has been written with just four letters - A, T, C and G, the labels given to the DNA subunits contained in all organisms. That alphabet has just grown longer, with the creation of a living cell that has two 'foreign' DNA building blocks in its genome, the Science Journal Nature notes.
The latest study moves life beyond the four letters - the molecules or bases that pair up in the DNA helix - and introduces two new letters of life called X and Y.
The research could eventually lead to the production of completely new proteins that could be used for medical purposes or industrial products, while the breakthrough adds credibility to the theory that life in outer space could exist entirely without the DNA that exists on Earth, the Russian Times notes.
"What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information," the news outlet quoted Floyd Rosesberg, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who led the 15-year study.
"This shows that other solutions to storing information are possible and of course, takes us close to an expanded-DNA biology that will have many exciting applications - from new medicines to new kinds of nanotechnology."
Rosemberg started out with E coli, a bug normally found in soil and carried by people. Inside the bug, he inserted a loop of genetic material that carried normal DNA and two synthetic DNA bases.
The living organisms: G,T, C and A come together to form two base pairs, G-C and T-A, while the extra synthetic DNA forms a third based pair, X-Y, according to the study published in Nature. These base pairs are used to make genes where cells make proteins.
"This is just a beautiful piece of work," Matin Fussenegger, a synthetic biologist at ETH Zurich told the Guardian. "DNA replication is really the cream of the crop of evolution which operates the same way in all living systems. Seeing that this machinery works with synthetic base pairs is just fascinating."
"The arrival of this unprecedented 'alien' life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications," Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian advocacy organization, told the New York Times. "While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments haven't even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field."
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