First Semi-Synthetic Organism Created
The first stable semisynthetic organism has been created by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).
The basis for all life is contained within 4 bases that configure into two base pairs to construct the DNA double helix. The different arrangement and coordination of these for bases leads to all the differences from bacteria, ants, butterflies, birds, dolphins and humans.
The big deal about this new organism is that they are two additional synthetic bases called X and Y added to the genetic code in addition to the four natural bases, A, T, C, G. The new research shows that the single celled organism can maintain its synthetic base pair as it continues to divide.
Professor Floyd Romesberg and his colleagues of TSRI had previously developed the two synthetic bases X and Y in 2014. They also showed that a modified E. coli bacteria could hold this synthetic base pair within its own genetic code. The E. coli could not hold on to the X and Y base pair as it divided which resulted in the synthetic additions being dropped over time. This means synthetic additions could only be used as additional information for a limited amount of time.
In order for a genome to be stable, has to be stable for the whole lifetime of the organism. A semisynthetic organism needs to maintain that stability in order to actually be an organism. This new semisynthetic organism they had developed was only in it's infancy, not yet ready for real life.
Graduate Students Yorke Zhang and Brian Lamb were the ones to arrive at a break through and develop the means for a single celled organism to retain its artificial base pair. These co-authors optimized a nucleotide transporter that improved upon the ability for the semi synthetic organism to grow and divide while still holding onto the X and Y synthetic bases. Research also made the Y base into a new version that made it easier for cells to copy and replicate.
The tricky part was in using CRISPR-Cas9, a tool used in human genome editing experiments, as a spellchecker for the different synthetic bases. They designed their organism to check for genetic sequences without X and Y and treat them as a foreign invader. This resulted in an organism that could hold onto the new bases and become immune to base pair losses that not come from the four natural bases.
Synthetic bases were now held onto after 60 divisions, and researchers believe that it can hold onto the base pair indefinitely.
"We can now get the light of life to stay on. That suggests that all of life's processes can be subject to manipulation."
Don't get too hyped up about being able to create more complex semi synthetic or synthetic organisms just yet. Romesberg says that this only works in single celled organisms. The actual applications for this semi synthetic organism do not exist yet. The only thing they have achieved is being able to get the organism to store genetic information.
The next step for the researchers is to understand how this new genetic code can be transcribed into RNA which are the molecules that translate DNA into proteins. This current research is the first step in further development in synthetic organism creation.
The whole manipulation of the basics of life sound like it could be problematic give our current irresponsible state of messing with things we don't understand enough...
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