Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California have created the first synthetic life forms, constructed with the goal of passing on an extended genetic code to succeeding generations. This is an important scientific breakthrough lauded as a significant step towards a new group of synthetic life forms whose very cells would contain artificial DNA unlike any other genetic code of other organisms.
Said to be “the building block of life,” DNA lays out our individuality in a biological code of four different letters: G, T, C and A. From the minute the first organisms sprang to life, to the present billions of years after, this special code has determined the differences of life forms across the globe. This new discovery has gone beyond that and thrown to more letters into the biological alphabet–X and Y.
This new pair of letters meshes with the first four as the bases or molecules that join together in the DNA helix, and care little that what science knows as “the molecules of life” which make up DNA are inviolate. Team leader Floyd Romesberg explained that they began by “inserting a loop of genetic material” that blended regular DNA with two artificial DNA bases into the E coli bug. This artificial DNA (XNA) birthed a third base pair, X-Y, which can now be utilized to create genes – the templates which cells use for proteins.
Romesberg’s researchers learned that when the E coli divided it handed down both the synthetic and normal DNA to the succeeding generation, and the next generation did the same thing. He noted that the synthetic life forms he and his team created currently contain a new DNA code that could someday be engineered to produce new drugs that could not have been made any other way. The artificial coding in the synthetic life forms’ cells may enable man to manufacture proteins which are not currently present in nature thus leading to an entirely new line of “protein-based medicine.”
Romesberg reported: “What we have now, for the first time, is an organism that stably harbors a third base pair and it is utterly different to the natural ones.” He concluded: “It’s a discovery that shakes our understanding of life by the scruff of the neck, challenging the preconception that DNA is somehow inalterable.”
Synthetic Life Forms Created In The Lab