In a major step toward creating artificial life, U.S. researchers have developed a living organism that incorporates both natural and artificial DNA and is capable of creating entirely new, synthetic proteins.
The work, published in the journal Nature, brings scientists closer to the development of designer proteins made to order in a laboratory.
Previous work by Floyd Romesberg, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, showed that it was possible to expand the genetic alphabet of natural DNA beyond its current four letters: adenine(A), cytosine(C), guanine (G) and thymine(T).
In 2014, Romesberg and colleagues created a strain of E. coli bacteria that contained two unnatural letters, X and Y.
In the latest work, Romesberg’s team has shown that this partially synthetic form of E. coli can take instructions from this hybrid genetic alphabet to make new proteins.
“This is the first time ever a cell has translated a protein using something other than G, C, A or T,” Romesberg said.
Although the actual changes to the organism were small, the feat is significant, he said in a telephone interview. “It’s the first change to life ever made.”
It’s a goal Romesberg has been working toward for the past 20 years. Creating new forms of life, however, is not the main point. Romesberg is interested in using this expanded genetic alphabet to create new types of proteins that can be used to treat disease.
In 2014, he formed a company called Synthorx Inc, which is working on developing new protein-based treatments.
“A lot of proteins that you want to use as drugs get cleared in the kidney very quickly,” Romesberg said. The new system would allow scientists to attach fat molecules to drugs to keep them in the body longer.
Romesberg is aware that the creation of semi-synthetic organisms might raise concerns of hybrid life forms spreading beyond the lab, but the system they used makes such an escape unlikely.
For example, in natural DNA, base pairs are attracted to each other through the bonding of hydrogen atoms. Romesberg’s X and Y bases are attracted through an entirely different process, which prevents them from accidentally bonding with natural bases.
And because cells cannot make their own X and Y without the addition of certain chemicals, the semi-synthetic organisms cannot live outside of a laboratory.
“They can’t escape,” Romesberg said. “There’s no ‘Jurassic Park’ scenario.”
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
White House official nailed by CNN’s Tapper about Trump’s taxes after he whines Biden won’t release his court picks
Attempting to defuse accusations of hypocrisy over the rush to replace Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff complained that former Vice President Joe Biden has yet to release nominees he would consider for the high court, only to have CNN's Jake Tapper confront him about Donald Trump's taxes.
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Marc Short tried to brush aside accusations that Republicans are hypocrites when it comes to voting on Supreme Court nominees in an election year when he stepped in it by attacking Biden.
"We still haven't seen a list from Joe Biden," Short told the CNN host. "We welcome a list from Joe Biden who would show the American people here's who I would appoint to the Supreme Court. But as far as the politics of it, I think the American people wanted Donald Trump to be in a position to make these nominations, and it's his obligation to do so."
‘You don’t see any hypocrisy?’ Chris Wallace filets Tom Cotton by replaying his Merrick Garland speech
Fox News host Chris Wallace accused Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) of hypocrisy on Sunday after he vowed to push forward with a vote to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an election year.
"Why the rush to judgement?" Wallace asked Cotton after the senator promised a swift vote on President Donald Trump's eventual nominee.
"We're not going to rush," Cotton insisted. "We not going to skip steps. We're going to move forward without delay."
Wallace reminded Cotton that President Barack Obama named Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016.
Trump’s ‘The Apprentice: Covid Edition’ is a massive flop — and blowing up in his face
It was an experience so profound for Trump that he did something highly unusual: He learned something. He absorbed the idea that a well-constructed illusion of competence gets you all the benefits of being accomplished, without having to do the hard work of actually achieving anything.