There’s a brand new life form in the news today as Californian scientists announce the creation of a bacteria containing artificial DNA.
It’s all about the letters when talking about the DNA double helix, the markers for what organisms become, including their looks, their genetic makeup, even their excretions. Usually, DNA’s double helix contains only four letters, A, T, C and G, which pair up into t-a and c-g when forming. Essentially, DNA is like a computer, storing data and instructions, including some most unexpected info, like music–see this story for more on that.
Researchers have, in the past, been able to create artificial pairs within the DNA structure, as detailed in this article, however, until now they have never managed to create an organism which could pass on these structures during replication.
Now a team of geneticists at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, have just managed to add a new pair into the mix. d5SICS and dNam, which were added to form a new pair on the DNA strand, was dubbed as the x-y pair. They placed this new pair into a strain of e. coli, and the strain has managed to pass on the altered DNA to its offspring. In effect, that means the first artificial life form has been successfully created. This bacteria is safe if it should happen to get free because it cannot infect anything while it possesses the extra letters in its helix, and would be unable to sustain itself in its current state for long. It would have to revert to the four-letter variety or perish.
The practical applications for this new DNA pair are already being explored as genetic researchers contemplate making use of the currently inert extra set. DNA is often used to create proteins which can be harvested to create drugs. In this case, they anticipate that many new proteins which could have never been created will now be possible as a result of this research. The new drugs could improve the ability to cure such diseases as cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and more.
The long-term implications of artificial DNA have sometimes been seen in a harmful light. There are some who believe such technology could be used to build stronger armies or athletes, leaving unaltered people far behind. However, many beneficial uses could also surface. Stronger, healthier people in general, or maybe even persons improved to withstand harsh environments like outer space or oceanic environments could emerge. Diseases that currently plague the weak and elderly could disappear completely. A new breed of humans possessing more than four letters on a permanent basis could arise. The possibilities are endless, and quite exciting, as we stand on the verge of a whole new era in evolutionary design.