The development could eventually lead to the discovery of new medicines and “much more”.
In a significant development for medical science, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have produced the world’s first stable semi-synthetic organism.
While earlier it had created organisms with synthetic DNA letters they however could not keep their artificial base pair in their genetic code. With this new development, that obstacle is now history.
The new bacteria can now hold on to its artificially created X and Y bases while it grows and divides much like the natural A, C, G and T bases.
Turns out the key was to tweak existing techniques to get this result, said the researchers.
To begin with, the researchers first fine-tuned a nucleotide transporter (which acts as a carrier for the materials that are needed to copy artificial base pairs across the cell membrane) such that the new letters doesn’t make the bacteria “sick”. To further help the bacteria, the scientists made their Y letter easier to copy. And finally, as a sort of insurance, the researchers used CRISPR gene editing techniques to enable their bacteria to reject genetic sequences that don’t have X and Y, thus making it effectively impossible to lose the synthetic data.
Although this is a significant step, there is still miles to go before hybrid life can be created for any practical purposes.
While this technique has created single-celled organisms capable of storing only genetic info, it is a different matter altogether to get it to store data into RNA, let alone produce complex organisms.
Nevertheless, this is a significant step on a mile long journey.
According to Scripps, this has a bright future ahead of it: eventually the letters could be used to create new functions, which in turn could help in discovering new medicines and “much more.”